- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 1, 2000

One-third of the 400 or so students at Backus Middle School walked out yesterday morning. They are concerned Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is planning to take their school away from them. Now ordinarily, children are told to speak only when spoken to, but in this case, their voices and the voices of their parents ought to carry great weight. Right now, they are not. If Mrs. Ackerman were to listen she would learn that, for the most part, all parents and students of Backus want to know are the details of her plans for a new magnet school. Problem is, Mrs. Ackerman has yet to inform them. While school officials have spoken with the media, and school officials have spoken with officials at Backus and school officials have spoken among themselves, the very people who would be on the receiving end of whatever the superintendent intends to implement have been neglected.

Yesterday's walkout was the second protest at Backus this week. On Wednesday, about 450 parents and students complained about the superintendent's plans. Some of the anger is generated by rumors, rumors that Backus is going to be renamed, rumors that current Backus students would be kicked out of the new magnet program, and rumors that even their principal and teachers would not be around next year after the curriculum is redesigned. The fact there are rumors at all underscores the dilemma facing the superintendent.

It is a dilemma that goes back to last year, when Paul Junior School was granted permission to fully convert to a charter school and Mrs. Ackerman crafted a plan to place a math-science school in the same building. When, quite recently, Paul was granted permission to stay put in the building, Mrs. Ackerman was forced to search for a new home for her magnet program. The two sites she is considering are MacFarland Junior High School and Backus Middle School. She also has said the teachers and principals at the receiving school would have to reapply for their jobs and current students would have to apply to attend. As you might imagine, none of that sits well with parents, who have no other neighborhood option for their children at Backus, which already has a math-science program. As for the staff, Principal Gary Washington was quite concerned yesterday when scores of students headed out the front door just as classes began about 9 a.m., and he had every right to be. He is responsible for the safety and well being of all students at Backus. Fortunately for him, the students had written permission from their parents to conduct an orderly walkout, and unfortunately for Mrs. Ackerman it was a tough lesson. The true misfortune, though, is children have to deal with such anxiety in a schoolhouse setting. All that could have been avoided if the superintendent had engaged Backus parents in serious discourse beforehand, letting them know that she indeed has children first and foremost in her mind.

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