Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Kentucky Students take on Senators

Kentucky students held a rally Monday morning on the steps of the state capitol, demanding that two state senators stop sabotaging a bill they're hoping to move through the legislature. The bill, conceived and written by members of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, would allow high school students to sit on superintendent screening committees.

Student Voice Team member Eliza Jane Schaffer and adviser Rachel Belin appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show last night. (Kentucky story begins at 4:10)

House Bill 236 passed education committees in both chambers and was passed overwhelmingly by the state House. But then two state senators tacked on what the students are calling unrelated and unfriendly amendments, effectively killing the legislation.

The amendments were proposed by state Sens. CB Embry, Jr. and Albert Robinson. One would require transgender students to use bathrooms based on their sex when they were born. Another would allow students to express their religious or political views in school without facing discrimination.

Robinson, who proposed the latter amendment, told Morning Education (source via email) that thousands of people support it, whereas not one of his constituents has called about the superintendent screening bill. He said he never intended to kill the students' bill; in fact, he thought his amendment would help it pass. But the students have been "irrational" and they've resorted to personal attacks, Robinson said. As a result, he doesn't want to meet with them. "They're not reasonable people," he said, "and frankly, I don't know if they should be picking superintendents."

The students have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #saveourbill and they're reaching out to media to spread the word. Andrew Brennan, one of the students behind the effort, told Morning Education that state senators have told them "that this is just how the game is played." His response: "This is a bipartisan piece of legislation. It shouldn't be politicized."

The students said they haven't been thrilled with past media coverage of their campaign. Reports have portrayed them as naïve and confused about the political process, said Eliza Jane Schaeffer. "While we were shocked when the amendments were added, we understand what's happening," she said. The story is no longer about naïve students, or even about who should screen superintendents, the students said. They see it as a story about a dysfunctional political system that silences student voice.

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