Three Zionsville Community High School juniors organized a schoolwide walkout to protest bills being passed across the U.S. that they believe delegitimize the LGBTQ community.
After reading about protests at other high schools to support opposition to Florida’s HB 1557, commonly referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and similar legislation in other states, Nixe Negrin organized the same type of protest at ZCHS to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
The text in HB 1557 that is under scrutiny reads, “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur.”
Negrin, 16, recruited two of her friends, Mitchell Greeson and Grace Noble, both 17, and organized the walkout March 11 at the high school.
“Me and Grace mostly handled everything with the school, like contacting the principal and making sure everything would happen in a safe manner. And Mitchell handled crowd control and made sure a good amount of people would show up,” Negrin said. “It all came together really well.”
ZCHS Principal Tim East informed Noble and Negrin that he appreciated that they sought permission and input from the school, but offered alternative activities the students could consider to make their voices heard that would not disrupt the school day.
“A group of students reached out to me to gain a better understanding of the school’s position on acts of civil disobedience,” East said. “I met with the student leaders and provided them a summary of the pertinent handbook language and law guiding the actions the school could take. We communicated with student leaders of the demonstration that participation in an act of civil disobedience presents some conflicts of purpose in the school setting, specifically drawing the line between supporting student voice when expressed with an act of civil disobedience and the responsibility to maintain a safe and orderly school environment free of disruption.”
When East realized the students had made up their mind, he let them know that they could not post materials in the school to promote an activity that would constitute interference with classroom instruction and would be considered “out of bounds,” according to the student handbook. East reinforced that no faculty could endorse or participate in an “overtly political demonstration.”
Being “out of bounds” is defined in the ZCHS student handbook as “not in assigned location, failure to follow procedure.”
“The parents of the students involved were all notified, and each student received an out-of-bounds mark,” East said. “First-time offenses result in parents being notified and a discussion with faculty. The second time, you get an attendance mark. Each offense increases in severity, and can eventually reach expulsion.”
With the support of the Zionsville Police Dept., the school’s administrative team created a “safety zone” around the area where students gathered to express their views. No Zionsville Community Schools staff participated in the protest, according East
East said en estimated 189 students left class and attended the walk out, which lasted from 1 to 1:20 p.m.
Negrin, Noble and Greeson, along with several other students, took turns speaking on the bills for 19 minutes. During the last minute of the walkout, the students held a moment of silence before returning to class.
“We held the walkout to bring attention to the fact that these bills are being passed, that they are wrong and that we will continue to speak up about them because they are affecting the lives of many LGBTQ individuals,” Negrin said.
Negrin is a leader of the Intersection Club at ZCHS. She defined Intersection as a group that welcomes people of all backgrounds, including gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity.
“It’s a place where you’re free to be yourself,” Negrin said.