Whittell High School students stage sit-in to protest firing of teacher
May 6, 2005
Dozens of Whittell High School students staged a sit-in Friday morning in response to the firing of counselor Karen Boulet and suspension of two seniors for reportedly having ibuprofen at the school’s April 29 prom.
The count of youthful protesters ranged from 15 to 70, but the consensus was 50 as the demonstration in the school’s commons area lasted 10 minutes before it was broken after students learned that Principal Janie Gray contacted authorities.
No one was arrested or hurt. Whittell junior Russell Burkett, a participant in the civil disobedience, said those involved were punished with one day of after-school detention and a one-page essay on what they did and why they did it. A district official confirmed the punishment.
Burkett said he participated to object to Boulet’s termination. Boulet is in her third year at Whittell and previously worked in the Washoe County School District.
District officials can’t comment on personnel issues, so the specific reason of Boulet’s termination is unclear.
“She just doesn’t talk about your academics,” Burkett said. “She does a lot more. She helps kids get into college. She’s really good at setting up a plan for graduation.”
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Reached on Friday after school, Boulet said, “It was a surprise to the faculty to see such student support.”
Gray told the student protesters to go to class but her demand wasn’t heeded. It took another message over the intercom from Gray – in the form of go to class or go with sheriff’s deputies – that broke the sit-in.
Douglas County Sheriff’s Lt. Keith Logan said he arrived at school about 8:30 a.m. and “immediately released” two deputies who arrived at the scene.
“I know by the time our officers arrived students returned to class, or were believed to be in class,” he said.
Logan stayed at the school until 10 a.m. to check on classes and observe the first break in the day.
Further discipline, if any, would be in the hands of Whittell school officials, according to Rich Alexander, assistant superintendent of human resources.
Alexander cited board policy 529 on suspension and expulsion. The policy stated a student can be suspended or expelled for “willful disobedience to administrators, teachers or other school district personnel.”
“Although the students certainly have a right to express their opinion, they do not have a right to disobey school district personnel,” he said.
Gray declined comment, referring the matter to Alexander.
The protest was said to be organized after a Thursday night meeting in which astonished and frustrated parents and students used the monthly principal’s roundtable to question Gray, two school board members and Alexander.
The two main topics centered around Boulet’s employment situation and the 10-day suspensions of Chris Shapiro and Marcus Mellberg, both pitchers and top hitters with Whittell’s baseball team, ranked 11th in the state.