Every Student, Every Day, A Success! What does this mean?
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Understanding student expression in GIPS

Our job as educators seems simple: Teach kids. As a district, it’s obviously a priority. Our mission is Every Student, Every Day, A Success. That success doesn’t come without teaching.

It’s in our vision: Students prepared to make positive contributions to society and thrive in an ever-changing world.

Ever-changing world. That’s the kicker.

If the world was sitting still, teaching our kids would be easy. But it is ever-changing and we must stay in touch with the world around us to remain relevant to our students and our community.

There are events taking place in the world, in the nation, even in Grand Island, Nebraska, making an impact on our students. These outside factors can quickly find their way inside our schools.

In March, I spoke with a group of student leaders on rumblings we were hearing about a potential walkout. After talking with the students, and hearing what they would like to plan and have happen, we were able to support their efforts to have an event to encourage students to know and treat each other better.

The key in that situation was the planning. Both before and after working with the students we talked with law enforcement partners at the Grand Island Police Department, took advice from state and local counsel, state and national education organizations and engaged our staff in making sure our students - all of them - were both safe and respected during the event.

The event was spurred by national news and even political arguments, but the stance our students were taking was not politically motivated. It was a rally for school safety. It was also completely voluntary. Because it was connected to a school improvement goal of school connectedness, we could agree to assist their efforts. This may not always be the case and we will always look at each request on its own merit.

Student expression is a hot-button issue across the nation, with differing opinions on how schools should best address it. Our staff, our students and our community are all learning through events occuring in this ever-changing world.

But some things remain solid and we want to be transparent and on the same page with everyone: Our students do have first amendment rights to free expression of speech. Grand Island Public Schools recognizes the rights of students to exercise their expression of ideas under the Constitution of the United States.

At the same time, the district reserves the authority to restrict student expression which substantially interferes with school operations or our educational mission, and we reserve the right to make rules for the use of school property and equipment.

Our education is based on developing critical thinkers. Our staff will not tell students what to think, rather we will teach them how to develop opinions, solutions and actions around critical analysis and thinking, communicating, collaborating and innovating.

We’ve listened to the community, parents, students and staff. We know our job is to prepare students. We also know it is a shared responsibility.

We strongly urge parents and families to have continual conversations with students about how to express their viewpoints. The issues we are talking about can be deeply personal. It is not the place of public schools to push a political position onto our students; this is something we hope students take on based on a number of factors - family, personal experience and sound judgment.

We know this won’t be the last time students look for ways to express their opinions. As a district, we must remain consistent. Students have proven to us they have opinions and voices they want to be heard.

If students are wanting to make a statement, we ask they talk it through with school leadership and develop a way to do so allowing them to express their opinions without negatively disrupting the learning environment. If students don’t get prior approval from administration, all attendance and school rules and guidelines will be enforced.

However, in the classroom and the hallways of our schools, education and safety take top priority. Students have rights to express opinions, as long as they aren’t disrupting the educational environment.

The best and safest place for students to be during the school day is in an organized learning environment. Students should be in classrooms, labs, theaters or gyms, or at partner locations learning from speakers, job shadows, internships and tours. These are the experiences - traditional and innovative - our schools are utilizing to prepare each student for his or her future.

It’s an ever-changing world and we are ever-updating our methods and processes to make education relevant to every student. We have embraced student voice in our schools and we are proud of that, even if it is forcing us to be a little uncomfortable and expand our style to accommodate every student’s need and situation.

The walls of our schools are safe and strong, but it is no longer an option to silence the noise of the outside world if we truly expect students to thrive in it.

- Dr. Grover, GIPS Superintendent

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