The leader of Monday’s student walkout at Washburn High School told the Minneapolis school board Tuesday night that school administrators threatened him with possible suspension or expulsion if he went ahead with a planned protest on Tuesday.
A half-dozen speakers opened the board’s meeting by lambasting Principal Carol Markham-Cousins, who was not present. They were particularly critical of the district’s declaration of a code yellow alert in conjunction with the walkout Monday by close to 200 students.
Senior Jamison Whiting said in an interview after he spoke to the board that he was summoned to meet with Markham-Cousins and two assistant principals shortly before a planned in-school protest. He said the protest intended for the start of fifth hour classes was designed to avoid the disruption of Monday’s walkout, in which students were barred from returning to classes.
He said he later met with an assistant principal, and Markham-Cousins told the assistant to not let him leave the room if he intended to continue the protest. He said administrators also contacted his mother, who texted him to plead that he not jeopardize his graduation or college athletic scholarship. Jamison is a stellar athlete in track and football, for which he gained a scholarship to Northern Iowa, and also plays rugby and basketball.
Jamison said students planned to start fifth hour by lining the hallway for five minutes in support of embattled school Athletic Director Dan Pratt, which he planned to film with a phone for a student Save Pratt site on Facebook.
Parents booed in support of Jamison when he described his experience. Markham-Cousins has not commented on the issue giving rise to the protests, Pratt's future as school athletic director.
Another speaker, parent Teri Bentson, asked the board to begin an outside investigation of the administration of Markham-Cousins. She accused the principal of running the school with an atmosphere of secrecy, distrust and bullying, both of staff and parents.
Patty Gardner, whose three children attended Washburn, along with foreign exchange students the family hosted, praised Pratt for helping her students find a niche. “When my son was hitting a rough patch, it was Dan he wanted to please every day,” she said.
Robin Simpson, another parent, criticized the security alert and the presence of extra police on the campus. She asked whether the district was afraid of students, parents, alumni or news media.
Pratt has been athletic director at the school for 13 years and also is an alumnus. Students said they have been told that he faces firing, but the district said that no disciplinary action has been taken against him, although an investigation of a “private personnel matter” is proceeding. The district said last weekend that it imposed the code yellow alert as a precaution because it wanted to keep track of parents and community members who might be entering the school in connection with the walkout.
Issues have been raised about fundraising for and planned installation of a scoreboard following the installation of artificial turf on the school’s athletic field. But parents focused on Pratt’s work with students.
A teacher at the school, Melissa Tauer, said she shifted her son from Hopkins to Washburn, where he got support from Pratt and football coach Giovan Jenkins. She said Pratt works long hours to help students and is particularly helpful to her special education students.