The parent of a second-grader at a New Bedford charter school became outraged Friday when he discovered that his child was on the school’s sidewalk as a part of a small protest, holding signs and chanting.
George Borden, who is a New Bedford police officer, was alerted by a friend who drove by the Alma Del Mar Charter School around 11:30 a.m. and saw 7- and 8-year-old students from the second-grade class on the sidewalk demonstrating.
According to Will Gardner, the school’s founder and executive director, a “handful” of the school’s students requested to hold the protest after a lesson on citizenship and the First Amendment, in which topics in the media, including the August death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., were discussed.
The students from Shabrina Guerrier’s class asked the head of school, Emily Stainer, if they could hold the protest.
“We went over a few things first,” said Stainer. “Obviously, their safety was our first concern.”
Stainer also spoke to the students about demonstrating respectfully. She allowed the students to hold the protest during their recess period.
“I don’t think 7-year-olds can come up with the idea to go out and protest on the street,” said Borden, whose daughter Alana was among the students on the sidewalk.
Guerrier told her students they did not have to participate, Gardner said.
“It wasn’t something the teacher planned,” he said. “It was something the kids did.”
Some of the students chose not to participate, said Gardner, noting that while a group of the students were on the sidewalk with signs that said “Honk if you want justice,” others were playing on the swings and monkey bars.
“She was very clear with the scholars that this was not to be an antipolice event in any way,” Gardner said.
But Borden, who has been a New Bedford police officer for 15 years, disagreed.
On Wednesday, Guerrier sent a slip home with students alerting parents that class discussion would include topics of race, diversity, and issues covered by the media, said Gardner. Parents had the option of holding their student out of the conversation.
Yasmin Flefleh-Vincent’s son Rye is in the same second-grade class, and she said she had no problem with the students demonstrating on the sidewalk.
“Never at once did I feel as though there was” an inappropriate tone, she said. “I appreciate the conversation and the discussion at school. I think it’s a relevant topic and I respect the teacher.”
Borden said Friday night that he found in his daughter’s backpack an invitation to another protest in New Bedford on Saturday.
“The school did not issue any kind of invitation to any protest,” said Gardner.
Borden said that until Friday he has always respected the integrity of the school and the way it values discipline. He said he plans to go to the school Monday morning to address Friday’s incident further.
“We discourage our teachers from sharing their own political and religious views with their scholars,” Gardner said, adding, “we certainly want our scholars to engage in activities that help them to understand what it means to be citizens and what it means to be a democracy.”