Sitting in the student section at Tuesday night’s Central Bucks School District school board meeting as it passed a policy that, according to the district’s own librarians and educators, will lead to censorship and book banning, I couldn’t help but feel anxious and disillusioned by the lack of student voices heard leading up to the 6-3 vote. There were only two current district students in the meeting that spoke out against library policy 109.2, while I was one of two recent graduates. Where were the stakeholders who were most affected by this narrow and divisive policy? Out of a district of over 18,000 students, why did only a few choose to stand up at a meeting publicized months ahead of time?
My journey as a community organizer began following the 2018 Parkland school shooting. The work of high schoolers from Stoneman Douglas to organize March for Our Lives and encourage millions across the country to fight for stricter gun laws resulted in my collaboration with fellow student council members and our principal to organize our own walkout, drawing over 300 other students to protest alongside us. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, I launched Youth 4 Unity alongside other angry students, engaging hundreds of community members in our protests for racial equity, and to online educational summits on LGBTQ+ rights, amidst other social justice issues. On social media, TikToks made by Gen Z’ers on the repercussions of the reversal of Roe v. Wade to Instagram infographics by recognizable accounts such as @impact or @so.informed result in millions of impressions and thousands of shares. Yet, as time passed, the amount of physical action from young people represented only a fraction of those sharing information online. The average audience at Youth 4 Unity rallies shifted from high school classmates to parents in their late 30s dragging along their toddlers. Currently, as a congressional campaign field organizer, I am often met with remarks about how nice it is to see a young person engaged in politics when knocking doors or attending fundraisers – underscoring the point of scarce youth engagement. Why? Why are young people not engaged with their communities, and why do they not care about these harmful policies that so many of us fundamentally disagree with?
In a district that has become increasingly conservative, the lack of students standing up to school board choices that directly affect us is nothing short of concerning. It is undeniable that the newly passed 109.2 will serve as a passageway to removing stories about queer and trans folx from libraries, and the removal of pride flags in classrooms has already stripped LGBTQ+ students of their sense of community and safety.
CB’s previous decisions in the past year on masking, facing a lawsuit for paying their female teachers less, and choosing to remain silent while students face harassment have not only established an embarrassing reputation for the district, but shown that they could care less about sexism, expanding DEI efforts, or protecting their students. Yet while these are all issues that young people have demonstrated they care about through social media posts and conversations I have with my friends, we are poorly informed and unsure of how to take action. Students are often not empowered as citizens and stakeholders who are capable of creating change, and we need to be acknowledged and have our voices heard in conversations on policies that affect us. Many of us can follow when we hear of the opportunity, as evidenced by the massive turnout of our anti-gun school walkout in 2018, yet when we feel we aren’t being given a seat at the table we often hesitate to demand it. I spent 13 years as a student in Central Bucks, but still have no clue if there is a student advisory board for district-wide policy implementation, and would never hear of press conferences or other protests on harmful board decisions if I hadn’t befriended local community members and stayed up-to-date on Facebook events.
Students are the ones facing the harshest consequences of policies such as 109.2 – destroying our college preparedness, stealing away novels that make us comfortable in our identities, harming our ability to critically think and analyze. However, we are treated like second-class citizens when it comes to sharing our opinions. It is unfair to not include students in these decisions, and we must cultivate spaces where students can develop the confidence to stand up for what they believe in. Student activism is not only a way to develop civic understanding and peacefully participate in our democracy, but crucial to ensuring our district protects the ability of students to learn a diverse array of thoughts and ideas that CB prides itself on.
And to any young person reading this, I challenge you to consider your internal barriers and self-limiting beliefs that hold you back from taking action on these issues. Your voice holds power, and your willingness to learn and lead will encourage growth in the entire student community. In a year where we are not only under attack by our school district but through government action (and inaction) and institutional oppression, student organizers need you to join us on the frontlines of this fight for equity and justice for all. Your story matters. Are you ready to share it with us?