91.7 Grand Rapids | 90.5 Bemidji | 89.9 Brainerd
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Grand Rapids High School Students Walk Out To Protest Staff Layoffs

Front of Grand Rapids MN High School
ISD 318 District Home Website

After ISD 318 School Board approved two resolutions to lay off tenured and probationary teachers, Grand Rapids high school students walked out of class on Friday, March 25th to protest the decision and show support for teachers and staff.

Levi Fisher, a student at Grand Rapids High School, took part in a student-led walkout March 25th to protest staff layoffs due to budget cuts. The ISD318 school board met Monday, March 22 and voted on two resolutions that approved the termination of 20 probationary teachers and placing 5 tenured teachers on unrequested leave of absence.

Fisher spoke with KAXE News and Public Affairs Director, Heidi Holtan and Senior Correspondent John Bauer, and explained that the main concern of student protesters is how the district is targeting younger teachers for layoffs. “What the district decided to do is to layoff teachers. Newer teachers that we can relate to are being cut because of seniority,” Fisher said. “We don’t feel like we’ve been heard.”

Grand Rapids High School students Tori Gunderson, Stacey Pederson, and Thomas Hill participated in the walkout to support teachers and staff in the district who helped create a "safe space" at the school. "We're out here to tell our teachers that we hear you, we stand with you, we're so sorry this is happening" Gunderson said. "This is bigger than us, we're trying to better the educational system for all."

According to students attending the walkout, within the first 15 minutes of the protest a large portion of the student body was present outside the school. "People brought all kinds of signs, there were chants, snacks. We had some music going, we started dancing," Gunderson said.

The crowd dispersed throughout the day, but there was still a group of 5 students who stayed outside the school until the final bell rang at 3:05pm. "As students, we need to be a part of the change," Gunderson said. "We have talked so much but nothing was heard, so we took this physical action. I was super anxious at first, but now I'm out here, I did it, and now I know I can do it in the future for future actions."

Over the past 3 years, the school board has cut about 6 million dollars from district’s budget, with 3.2 million coming in this round of cuts. Along with teacher layoffs, other staff have been affected by these cuts including principals, secretaries, and ESPs.

This walkout continues a long history of student-led protests: From Kent State in the 70s, Tiananmen Square in the 80s, Iraq War walkouts in the aughts, The Arab Spring in the 2010s, and the recent Student Strikes for Climate. With the quality of their education at stake, Grand Rapids High School students are seeking to make their voices heard with this direct action.

Listen to the full interview with Fisher by clicking the player at the top of the page.