HINSDALE, N.H. -- In a scene straight out of the Vietnam war era, scores of students staged a defiant sit-in Thursday to protest what they feel is an injustice. But these young people weren't there to express their unhappiness about human rights violations or a bloody conflict in a far-away country. They wanted to bring attention to a local issue affecting all of them.
The students belong to Hinsdale Middle/High School and their act of civil disobedience was aimed at forcing the School Board to reconsider its decision not to renew the contracts of six teachers for the next academic year. School Board members voted for non-renewal in March and affirmed that decision in April. All the educators in question had been employed by the School Administrative Unit 92 for fewer than five years and were either non-tenured or probationary. School Board Chairwoman Holly Kennedy said the agonizing decision was based on recommendations by School Superintendent Dr. David Crisafulli, who first met with various other school officials.
More than 50 people filed into the SAU 92 conference room Wednesday evening to grill the School Board about its decision and show support for the teachers whose contracts will not renewed. Thursday's demonstration was likely a continuation of the discontent seen Wednesday.
The protest included 80 to 100 students, according to one 17-year-old senior who said she participated. The student, who will remain anonymous, said interest in holding a sit-in generated on Facebook a couple of weeks ago and all students knew about it by Thursday morning. The protest took place in the cafeteria during a school-wide study hall period. She told the Reformer the teachers whose contracts were not being renewed are very good educators who should not be let go.
"I think it went very well," the student said, adding that she is glad she participated. "We literally went into the school cafeteria and just sat there silently."
Once the protest had ended, Crisafulli told the Reformer he respects the students' right of expression, but the administration must do its best to ensure there is not much distraction to a school day. He said there were no suspensions or expulsions as a result of the peaceful sit-in.
"We understand their point of view and I think they made a positive statement," Crisafulli said. He mentioned he is entering his 31st year as a school superintendent and has witnessed plenty of civil disobedience from students. "There really isn't much I haven't seen."
Karen and Erik Atkins have three children in the Hinsdale school system and told the Reformer at least one of them took part in Thursday's protest.
"As far as I know it was done peacefully and they just let their feelings be known about their disagreement with some of the teachers being let go," Karen Atkins said.
Crisafulli said the initial list of non-renewals contained nine teachers, but three of them have been hired back. He told the Reformer one of the others was just filling in for a teacher taking a leave of absence and will be hired back in some capacity.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.