“This is an ongoing issue of crime and violence on school grounds. I do not feel safe as a person of color because the majority of these incidents happen to members of our community.
“We are not animals. We are people and we matter.”
“I feel disgusted and I feel fearful, because I know this can happen to anyone of us in the Black or LGBT community at Woodland Hills.
“This is not his fault. And he is not a f****t. Children are supposed to be protected.”
Powerful words from Woodland Hills Junior and Senior High School youth organizers on April 12. Just a the week prior, their 14-year-old classmate was allegedly called a homophobic slur and assaulted by police officer Steve Shaulis. According to the student’s attorney, this student will need oral surgery to repair teeth dislodged teeth after Shaulis’ assault. The incident occurred only months after Principal Kevin Murray was investigated for threatening to “knock” another student’s “teeth down his throat.” The student’s attorney claims that Murray was present at the time of the assault, a fact contested by Murray’s attorney. After the assault, the 14-year-old was led out of the school in handcuffs. A press conference and more information can be found at WPXI.
“Counselors Not Cops,” “Children are NOT Criminals,” “Fire Shaulis”: signs from parents, students, and community members filled the library used for the Woodland Hills school board agenda setting meeting. Rallied by youth organizers at the school, between 50-60 people came to call for change.
According to the Pennsylvania Information Management System, 60% of students in the Woodland Hills School District are people of color, but these students make up 87.4% of those suspended, and 100% of students expelled last year. The school is now partnering with the Allegheny County School Justice Partnership Initiative, a program with the goal of dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. The program reached out to Woodland Hills because of the high arrest rate at the school.
“This did not involve any of the employees of the school district,” stated school board superintendent Alan Johnson at the April 12 meeting, referencing the fact that Officer Steve Shaulis is a Churchill Police Department employee. In response to the incident, Superintendent Johnson announced that the school would be pursuing the use of police body cameras in the school.
As the school board agenda meeting moved on to other topics, the community pushed for further discussion.
“You have not held them accountable. They have bred a culture of violence. These are not isolated incidents,” stated one community member. Darnika Reed, a parent and member of the Alliance for Police Accountability, stated APA demands:
- The removal of Officer Shaulis and Principal Murray
- A replacement for the Dynasty security guard service used by the school, in response to student complaints
- Agreements with such organizations publically available on the school website
- A removal of police in schools
“I am afraid to send my son to school,” Reed added.
School board member Tara Reis reminded the room that she has a child at the high school.
“Did your child get punched in the face?” asked another mother. “Is your child getting expelled for simple reasons?”
Amid the rising tensions, a youth organizer reminded the room to stand together, first addressing the community: “Mrs. Reis is like a mom to me.” The student continued to acknowledge that the school board doesn’t understand what students are going through, but “I understand that you guys are doing the best that you can do. So I just want to say thank you.”
“As a community we should be together.”
After the meeting, organizers raised more calls to action: “White people in general are not going to feel the same impact that we go through daily.”
“This is not the end . . . We want people to come together, as just as much as today.”
The school board will be meeting again on Wednesday, April 19th, and students and community members will once again be present through the Woodland Hills Rally for Justice. Readers can get involved at this rally and meeting, and can follow the story through the Alliance for Police Accountability and the school community through the Woodland Hills School District.