Wed March 21, 2012
How Trayvon Martin’s High School Reacted To His Public Death
It’s been nearly a month since self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen in Sanford, Fla.
Martin’s death has inspired a national debate about race and justice.
But at the high school Martin attended in Miami, his death had not been announced publicly until today, when the school held a moment of silence for the slain student.
Ashley Aristide is a junior at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High in Miami, where Martin went to school.
She’s having a hard time coping with her friend’s death.
“He’s dead and his killer isn’t even arrested, it just doesn’t make sense to me,” Aristide said. “I just really want justice to be served in this case because it’s not fair.”
But for more than three-weeks, Aristide said no one in the school’s administration was talking to students about Martin.
“They didn’t make any announcement or anything.”
The school didn’t publicly announce Martin’s death until today, and only after StateImpact Florida asked the school district about it.
Update at 10:15 a.m. ET Miami-Dade School District Responds
This morning, the chief communications director for the Miami-Dade County school district, John Schuster, said there is a reason the school did not announce Trayvon’s death on campus.
“Shortly after Trayvon’s death, his parents asked the school’s principal for privacy in the matter,” Schuster said.
But the school did make an announcement anyway after StateImpact Florida started asking around.
Schuster said crisis counselors usually “move from classroom to classroom, announce [a student’s] death, and offer services to students.” But because he said the family requested privacy, “counselors could not proceed in the usual manner.”
“As new information has become available regarding the student’s death, counselors continue to be available to address students’ grief, frustration, and anger about the death of their fellow student.”
Our original post, from 3/21 at 5:33 p.m. ET
Trayvon Martin was suspended from the school at the time of his death. The school and the teen’s family have refused to comment on the reason for the suspension.
How Has Trayvon Martin Impacted Florida Classrooms?
The Orlando Sentinel has reported Martin was suspended for tardiness, not misbehavior.
The school’s principal held a moment of silence and in an email told teachers to refer students who looked like they were grieving to counselors.
In other emails the school principal asked teachers to refrain from speaking to the media about Martin because he was a minor, and asked teachers to refrain from lengthy conversations about Martin.
But Aristide says students are talking about it anyway.
“You can’t help it. It’s something that happened. He went to our school.”
School officials handled other student deaths much differently.
Last year another student at the high school, Christopher Belle, died after being hit by a car.
The school orchestra collected donations for Belle’s family and a slide show of Belle was shown at a performance.
“It was definitely different from what they are doing for Trayvon now, which is nothing,” Aristide said. “But it’s simpler to deal with something the way Christopher Belle died and the way Trayvon died.”
Aristide says she understands why the school may not want to openly talk about Martin in class.
“I’m pretty sure the school just doesn’t want that commotion inside the school because learning in that environment would be pretty hard,” she said.
“At the end of the day, that’s not on the curriculum, so if we’re teaching towards the test, talking about that wouldn’t help us prepare for the test.”
Should Schools Address Student Trauma?
A spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade school said there is a protocol for dealing with any crisis, whether it’s a student death or a hurricane.
The principal calls the district. The district calls a crisis team. And members of the crisis team go into the school.
It may be a psychologist who can talk to grieving students about a loss. It may be an advocate who can provide clothing for students who lost their belongings in fire.
The district says there is no deadline for the crisis team to go into a school, nor a limit as to how long they will stay.
Some question whether schools should be involved in dealing with student deaths at all.
Alison Austin is CEO of the Belafonte Tacolcy Center that works with youths experiencing trauma in Miami-Dade County.
“Should it be addressed in the schools? I don’t really know if it should or not,” Austin said.
“I think it’s important for us to recognize loss, but I don’t know how fair it is to put that holistic responsibility on schools.”
A teacher at the school, Carlos Montero, said students have not brought up Martin’s case in his science class.
“And I don’t bring it up,” Montero said. “It’s not related to the curriculum.”
Montero said he would only talk about Martin in class if there was a science lesson in it for his students.
“If any student is experiencing any kind of grief we refer them to the counselors,” Montero said.
And when another teacher avoided the discussion in Aristide’s advanced History class, Aristide says it seemed odd to her.
“It’s a history class so we’re encouraged to watch the news, see what’s going on, and its all over the news so how can you avoid it?”
After the schools moment of silence, some students took to Twitter to show their frustration about the delay.
One tweeted: “I hate my school. Krop waited too long to acknowledge the situation of Trayvon.”
A group of students will wear hoodies to school tomorrow in honor of Trayvon Martin who was wearing a hoodie when he died. Others are wearing the sweatshirts as part of a “million hoodie march” conducted via social networking sites.
This story is part of WLRN’s StateImpact Florida education reporting project, which examines the effect of stat policies on the lives of students, educators and parents in our community.