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Protesters Demand School Board “Stop the Circus”

Written by on Thursday, April 4, 2024

One recent graduate touched on the concerns of immigrant students.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Apr. 3, 2024

Host: The actual meeting yesterday lasted barely 20 minutes. Without discussion, the Sarasota School Board members approved the consent agenda, as well as changes to several policies. But that was preceded by more than three hours of public comment, by far most attacking school board member Bridget Ziegler and asking her to resign, plus a half-hour rally to “Stop the Circus”. I was there to talk to some of the protesters.

Johannes Werner: The protest was organized by a youth organization called SEE, which stands for Social Equity through Education. The fifty-plus protesters and SEE founder Zander Moricz were accompanied by a documentary film crew, which filmed the organizing ahead of the protest and school board meeting, the actual protest, and the board proceedings.

One concern that prompted community members to come to the school board meeting was the suggestion by school board members to change the public comment procedure during meetings. Some public commenters said that this would amount to censorship. During the meeting, school board member Tom Edwards pointed out that a format allowing for public comment specific to an agenda item, plus general comment at the end of the meeting would be a return to a previous format. That format was rejected by anti-mask activists during the pandemic.

Others came to respond to Ziegler’s remarks during the last board meeting, suggesting the school board begin inquiring about the immigration status of students and their families. Her comment seems to tie into a nationwide effort to begin blocking access to public education for undocumented immigrants.

Sebastian Martinez is a recent Booker High graduate and founder of the Sarasota Youth Association. He addressed the crowd, in Spanish, urging immigrants to take note of Ziegler’s intentions.

Sebastian Martinez: El próximo paso que quieren tomar es ver el estatus migratorio de las familias y rechazar a los estudiantes de familias inmigrantes. Tienes que poner atención e involucrarte ahora para educar a la comunidad lo que está pasando y lo que estos políticos corruptos le van a hacer a tu familia. Gracias.

[translated to English]: The next step they want to take is to see the immigration status of families and to reject students from immigrant families. You have to pay attention and get involved now to educate the community about what is happening and what these corrupt politicians are going to do to your family. Thank you.

JW: According to Martinez, the effort to single out immigrant students is yet another attack on a minority, and it will not help student achievement.

Sebastian Martinez

SM: I think when it comes to public education, we need to be educating every single member of our community. It’s important that everyone gets a good education, whether they’re children of immigrants or whether they’re not. I think it’s an issue to me. I think it’s an issue bringing this into the school board light, because it’s so important. It’s just going to add another marginalized community that’s under attack constantly by members of the Republican Party or on the right. And I think it’s dangerous because this is going to politicize education even more and Republicans are planting the seeds now to start bringing this front at a larger scale nationally. But like always, it always starts in Sarasota.

JW: Could you talk maybe about some of the existing challenges for the immigrant population in Sarasota? 

SM: I mean, our ESOL programs here in Sarasota, I mean, they’re led by great people, but there’s a lot of shortcomings when it comes from the district and communicating with ESOL families, and communicating with them the different scholarship opportunities, club opportunities, work opportunities, internships; all ESOL families are left behind when it comes to those regards. And then, if we start politicizing ESOL families or immigrant families, then that gap’s just going to get wider and wider.

JW: Reporting from Sarasota, this has been Johannes Werner.




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