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Hundreds Of Shawnee Mission Students Walk Out Of Class To Support Teachers Amid Contract Tensions

Elle Moxley
KCUR 89.3
Shawnee Mission East students used social media and group text to coordinate a walkout on Friday in support of teachers, who have been teaching this year without a contract.

Hundreds of students at Shawnee Mission East High School walked out of school Friday to show support for teachers after the school board imposed a three-year, unilateral contract on Thursday.

Teachers began the school year without a contract, and negotiations have been at an impasse for months. A five-hour bargaining session on Tuesday ended with a lawyer representing the school district walking away from the table.

"They tried their hardest to keep it from us, but we can see it stresses them out," said eleventh grader Jack Kenney, one of the students how walked out. 

Kenney said teachers are overworked, and it can be hard to get individual attention before big tests in difficult subjects like chemistry as a result.

How many classes secondary teachers teach has been a source of contention throughout the negotiations. Shawnee Mission middle and high school teachers teach six out of seven periods per day, while teachers in neighboring Johnson County districts teach five.

Still, Kenney said Shawnee Mission East has good teachers who try to be there for students. That’s been senior Alyssa Gardner’s experience, too.

“I’m a transfer student, and the teachers here helped me no matter what was happening in my life, and helped me stay here when I was on the verge of leaving,” she said.

Credit Courtesy photo
Senior Alyssa Gardner walked out of school carrying a sign that said, 'You can't put students first if you put teachers last.'

Some students’ teachers did not allow them to leave the building during the walkout, Gardner said.

District spokesman David Smith said that while the district encourages students to exercise their First Amendment rights, students who walked out would face the same consequences as if they skipped class for any other reason.

“This has been a difficult period for the district as a whole,” Smith said. “We’re coming off 15 years where for the vast majority of those schools in Kansas haven’t been funded adequately. There’s so much catching up that we need to do, and I think there’s a lot of frustration on everybody’s part in not having the resources to do everything that we want to.”

In a statement sent out Thursday night, before the walkout, Superintendent Mike Fulton said teachers were “deeply valued” by both the school board and administration.

“We are doing our best to move quickly to address issues of workload and class size in ways that honor these dedicated professionals, while keeping the district on a solid fiscal path,” Fulton wrote in the email.

The contract the board approved gives teachers a 1% raise this school year with bigger increases in years two and three, but it did not address workload for middle and high school teachers.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can follow her on Twitter

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