Early Friday afternoon hundreds of Haven Middle School students walked out of class and started a peaceful sit-in protest in the hallways to support teachers who have received involuntary transfers to different schools for the 2022-23 year, according to multiple parents, teachers and an email from Principal Chris Latting to Haven families.
According to videos and photos taken by students and reviewed by the RoundTable, students filled the school hallways for the sit-in before marching around the building holding signs with messages of support for teachers and chanting phrases like “save our teachers.”
During the protest, several Evanston Police Department officers showed up outside of the school building, parents and teachers said, although it was unclear who notified the police. Sgt. Ken Carter, a spokesperson for EPD, told the RoundTable that police received a call from an anonymous staff member who requested a police presence during the student protest just before 1 p.m. Friday afternoon.
The officers who arrived on the scene found a peaceful protest with no evidence of any criminal activity, Carter said. No students or staff were hurt during the protest, according to EPD, and the school district will conduct its own internal investigation into Friday’s student demonstration.
Melissa Messinger, Executive Director of Communications for Evanston/Skokie School District 65, told the RoundTable in an email that “while the police were called as a precautionary measure, they have not been needed.”
“While the administration is supportive of students and the right to peacefully express their concerns, a number of students became disruptive by leaving classrooms and attempting to leave the building,” Latting wrote in his email to families. “A group of students are gathered outside at this time.”
Paul Watson, an eighth-grade student at Haven, told the RoundTable that several lunch monitors at the school informed the protesting students that they would be arrested, although police never apprehended any students or staff members. Some administrators and staff members also threatened to ban protesting students from their in-person middle school graduation this spring, according to Watson.
Watson, who helped organize the protest, added that the event was disorganized at times, but all the students did their best to stick together, support the teachers being transferred and remain peaceful and respectful.
“It could have gone better. This was the first time ever doing this for any of us,” Watson said. “We got more and more organized as time went on. We really did our best to protect teachers who have helped us a lot.”
After almost an hour of the sit-in and marching through the halls, many students spilled outside the building, although Latting said the Haven staff was working to “return students safely back to the building.”
Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, told the RoundTable that the crowd of protesting students became unruly at times, but the majority of the demonstration was peaceful and went on without incident.
“The sit-in was meant to peacefully protest the relocation of some of our favorite teachers who have been institutions at Haven, some for over 20 years,” the student said.
Friday’s protest occurred two weeks after District 65 informed 33 teachers that they were being involuntarily transferred to new school buildings next year, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Andalib Khelghati said during a Curriculum and Policy Committee meeting on May 9. The district reassigned the teachers in order to properly staff all buildings and departments amid declining enrollment and 52 already scheduled resignations, retirements, leaves of absence and non-renewals among educators, Khelghati said.
A total of 40 teachers are moving to new buildings this fall either voluntarily or involuntarily, and seven of those teachers currently work at Haven, accounting for almost 18% of all transfers.
“At this time, the situation has remained mostly peaceful; however, it is causing a disruption to learning this afternoon and several students have left the building,” Latting said in his email. “We ask that you please check in with your child.”