Francis Howell students walk out to protest school board’s proposed Black studies changes
Updated at 10:05 p.m. Jan. 18 with information and comments from the school board's meeting
Students from three Francis Howell high schools in St. Charles County walked out of class Thursday to protest the district’s decision to alter its Black history and literature courses.
Students walked out of Francis Howell High School, Francis Howell Central High School and Francis Howell North High School at 11:35 a.m. Some held signs that read "Black Voices Matter" and other signs with messages critical of the school board members who voted for the change.
Students have been protesting since last month when the school board voted 5-2 to remove the two courses because the curriculums were based in part on social justice standards developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The vote sparked outrage among students, parents and alumni who accused the board of erasing Black history.
The board president said the courses will return under a politically neutral standard.
“I have a huge issue with the board trying to A) take that away but B) making it politically neutral,” said Lauren Chance, a senior at Francis Howell North High School. “It’s not politically neutral, the board is trying to whitewash our history.”
Chance took Black history during her sophomore year and said the course helped shape her identity.
Students also spoke at the rally, sharing their experiences taking the classes. Francis Howell North senior Ryann Lovelace Brown said Black history was an eye-opening class.
“I don't understand what was wrong with the course that I took, because I personally think it was an accurate class,” Brown said. “I don't understand what a politically neutral class for Black history would look like, and I don't think there can be a politically neutral Black history class.”
The Francis Howell School District introduced the courses in 2021, a year after the murder of George Floyd led some parents, students and educators to call for the district to focus on racial equity.
But the school board’s makeup changed after an election last year, with a conservative majority focused on changing district policies. Last year, the board sunsetted the district’s anti-racism resolution. Some board members also have proposed but tabled a bathroom policy that requires transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their assigned sex at birth.
“I have been very disappointed and upset with the board because they just continue to disappoint students of color, especially our Black student community,” Francis Howell North senior Kyndall Bovinett said. “It was very insane to me to think that those classes were just taken away when they were just introduced to our curriculum not too long ago.”
Lauren Chance helped create the Students for Francis Howell Instagram page with Francis Howell North sophomore Harper Schneider to organize protests and started a Change.org petition to pressure the district to bring back the classes as designed. Last week, many students wore all black on the first day back from winter break.
“As students, we won't stand discrimination of any kind, and that as students we need to see inclusivity and diversity in our schools and in our classes,” Schneider said.
Criticisms of the board’s vote dominated a tense school board meeting Thursday evening as board members, students, parents and administrators shared their thoughts on the plan to alter the curriculums.
Curriculum makers said they’ve already started revising the classes and aim to present the board with the revisions by February that match Missouri learning standards for social studies and English language arts. That would allow the board to vote on the changes in March.
“As this is only a curriculum revision, we are not starting from scratch to complete this work,” Francis Howell Director of Curriculum and High Schools Luke Lammers said. “In addition, every teacher participating in this effort has been teaching the courses and is very familiar with the Missouri learning standards.”
Lammers said that after the curriculums are revised, social studies and English teachers and community members will get a chance to provide feedback that will be shared with the curriculum writers. Community members also will be encouraged to email the curriculum team with questions prior to a vote by the curriculum council. The council will then present the revised curriculum to the school board.
School board member Janet Stiglich said that while she stands by her vote a few years ago to create the classes, she hopes the revised classes teach accurate history.
“I would really like to hope that this new curriculum, it’s going to honor the intention and the spirit of the original elective courses we had going,” Stiglich said.