At least half of the student body of Belgrade High School walked out of their first-period classes Monday morning in protest of a school district plan to scrap a favorite teacher.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 students marched around the track, some carrying picket signs in support of Lisa Nesbitt, others wearing t-shirts that read, "Students Against Teacher Abuse."
Whether their protest will change anything remains to be seen. But for some students, the protest made a difference simply because they carried it off.
"The difference has already been made because students are out here in the rain averse to something the administration believes in," sophomore Matt Powell-Palm said. "This shows that we have the ability to rally around a focal point."
At issue is Nesbitt's teaching contract, which the administration is recommending not be renewed, students said.
Nesbitt has taught at BHS for three years. She teaches global studies, American government and politics, including sections of advanced-placement government and politics.
BHS Principal Kevin McNelis said the three principals are unanimous in their recommendation that the school board not offer Nesbitt a contract for next year. The board will meet at 7 a.m., Tuesday over the issue.
A non-tenured teacher can be fired without cause, and the administration in this case has given none. If Nesbitt's contract were renewed, she would receive tenure.
A second educator, band teacher Vi Huffman, also could lose her contract, but it was Nesbitt the students were rallying around Monday. That she is being recommended for dismissal has some students baffled, and more than a little incensed.
"She could make anything interesting and encouraged us to make our voices heard," student Billie Jo Jensen said of Nesbitt. "She underwent evaluations throughout the year flawlessly and still the high school administration has denied renewal without cause. Besides the sheer bafflement of this it could potentially ruin her career name as well."
Friday morning, upon learning of the administration's decision, students organized and sent a petition around the school, Jensen said. They reported 86 percent support for retaining Nesbitt, and will present the petition to the school board.
"A petition was started during second hour classes and by 3:30 p.m., 524 of 606 present students had signed the petition to show the school board our view," Jensen said in an e-mail. "Posters and flyers riddled the school by lunch and I myself walked the halls for the majority of the day getting signatures along with several classmates."
During Monday's walkout, students said Nesbitt has been a vocal student advocate, "working for us, not the administration," and speculated the district wants to fire her because she's also a vocal member of the teachers' union.
"They're getting rid of all the strong teachers," senior Elliott Breukelman said.
The Belgrade Education Association, the union that represents the district's teachers, has been working without a contract all year. The union and district have been unable to come to terms on pay and benefits.
McNelis declined to discuss the reasons for the administration's recommendation not to rehire Nesbitt. Superintendent Herb Benz did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story Monday morning.
We will carry expanded coverage of this story online as it develops and in our Tuesday print edition.