Students Protest Student Violence at Wauwatosa West


Dylan Heater

Students lead a protest outside of Wauwatosa West High School

At 7:45 AM on Friday, September 16th, approximately 10-15 Wauwatosa students and community members stood on the sidewalk in front of Wauwatosa West High School in protest of the student fights that have occurred both on and off campus this school year and to advocate for general school safety. The protest was organized following an off campus fight involving Whitman and Tosa West students on Monday, September 12th and a fight involving 6 students before school on Wednesday, September 14th. Camera crews and reporters from several Milwaukee news stations covered the event. The protest garnered large media coverage, with as many reporters as protestors.

“We’re hoping that this shows people that we’re not okay with [violence] and that we want change,” said West junior Emma Schickel. “We want the administration to see that they have to start doing something about this because people in our school don’t feel safe.”

The students participating in the protest were mostly from Wauwatosa West, with a few other students from Wauwatosa East and Whitman. They were joined by several parents with children who attend Wauwatosa Schools.

“This [protest was organized] by a bunch of parents and neighbors discussing our frustration over the fighting and the violence and how it’s interfering with our children’s learning, and it’s making them feel anxious at school,” said parent and teacher Tanya Jahr. ”The idea [to organize a walkout] just kind of came about and then the students took over from there.”

Despite having similar concerns, students and parents were not in unanimous agreement over what specific action they wanted from the district.

“[I would like] stricter consequences for the kids that are causing the fights to make everyone feel unsafe,” said Wauwatosa West junior Lillian Jahr. “And with the cops around the school, it really doesn’t make me feel that much more safe. It kind of scares me in a way.”

In contrast, some parents have been calling for a stronger police presence in schools. The Wauwatosa Police Department is currently in contract negotiations with the school district.

“I think we need some added security. I would like the district to have a positive relationship with the Wauwatosa police department so that we can utilize our school resource officers and ensure that they remain a part of our district,” said Tanya Jahr.

Students and parents both agreed that there needed to be stronger consequences for fighting at school. “I think the solution is actual consequences,” said Lillian Jahr. “Like there’s 10 suspensions and then an expulsion and I think that’s very unreasonable. I think it should be way less than that. So I think they should be more strict with their consequences.”

Wauwatosa West principal Corey Golla was present at the walkout on Friday and shares several of the parents’ and students’ concerns. Golla hopes that something positive will come out of the students’ actions.

“I think the students and parents out there want what I want, which is a peaceful school where students feel safe and comfortable coming everyday and do more engaging things here at West,” he said.

Superintendent Dr. Demond Means was also at Wauwatosa West to observe the protest and address concerns.
“Student protests are always good. It’s good to always hear the students’ voices,” said Means.

Means believes that the violence stems from lack of support for the students.

“[Violent] behavior is unacceptable, but it’s not normal behavior. Why would [students] feel so disenfranchised that [they] would do that in school?” he said. “In addition [to disciplining students] we also have to look at the other components in our

school culture. Why are students feeling this way? Do we have enough counselors, social workers, and school psychologists for them to go and talk to? Maybe at a school with 1100 students, we need seven or eight student supervisors versus four or five.”

Students are not the only ones affected by the violence. Staff are often the first to respond when a fight breaks out.
Gloria Henry, who works in the West cafeteria, was one of the staff members who helped break up the fight that occurred in the hallway Wednesday morning .

“I was totally shocked [when the fight broke out] because I didn’t know what was going on, all I heard was commotion. When I ran out there I knew I had to do something so I tried to intervene and help break it up,” said Henry.

Henry is concerned about what effects these fights have on the working environment of staff.

“There are people that don’t want to come work here because they are scared for their life. They don’t know if a student will come to school with a gun or a knife,” said Henry. “We all are risking our lives coming here everyday. But I love this school and I love the kids so I risk my life because I love my job.”

The intent of Friday’s protest was to invoke a message of change and demand action by the district. The community hopes to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for all students and staff.

“This is a very good school and good kids. It’s just that some of us need help.” said Henry.