Kennewick schools are increasing their efforts to make students feel safe.
That was the message school board member Dawn Adams shared with a small group of parents and teens that came to Kennewick’s school board meeting Wednesday night.
A small group of teens began appearing on the sidewalk near Kennewick High School in September. They were distributing pamphlets and holding anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ signs. The teens also have shown up at other schools.
“We’ve asked at each of the schools where the protesters show up that there be some sort of form of acknowledgment on the PA system recognizing that the protesters are here, and they have a legal right to be here,” Adams said. “But we also realize this could be distracting or upsetting to some of the students, and we’re here to support you.”
The district used the system Wednesday morning when the teens appeared at Kennewick High School again, she said.
Adam’s statement came in the wake of the Kennewick School District’s statement Wednesday that said the demonstrators can speak their mind, but they’re urged to keep the message positive.
A group of about three parents and a Richland student came to school district to thank leaders for meeting with Mark Lee and Conner Mertens about the challenges LGBTQ students face.
Reid Romine, a youth LGBTQ activist called on the district to become an accomplice in helping students struggling with bullying.
“An accomplice doesn’t stand at a distance; they lock arms and stand with you, even standing in front of you. Accomplices shield you and without hesitation abandon their station of privilege,” Romine said.
The district also said it does not condone attacks, harassment or accusations.
The district issued its statement after weeks of back-and-forth between religious and LGBTQ activists, says that student safety is the district’s foremost goal.
“It’s extremely important to us that students feel that their school is a welcoming and safe place,” according to the statement posted this morning following another appearance of the teens. “When they are at their school we want our students to focus on what matters most, their education.”
On social media, parents of LGBTQ youth have clamored for the district to more forcefully protect their children from what they see as harassment from religious demonstrators.
Parents and supporters of LGBTQ students, formed from a closed Facebook group called “Love Army Tri-Cities,” responded with protests of their own, lining up in front of the school in the afternoon.
The parents and supporters carried signs saying students were accepted, no matter what.
The district says it encourages open and civil expression of ideas and beliefs, and want the schools and surrounding neighborhoods to be places where everyone feels safe, welcome and respected.
“If members of the community choose to demonstrate or hand out flyers near our schools, we encourage them to do so with a positive message,” the statement said.