From staff reports

About 50 of McPherson Middle School’s 550 students walked out at 1 a.m. on Tuesday in protest of Summit Learning, an online platform that USD 418 adopted at the school as a part of the district’s redesign efforts.

Waving signs and chanting “No Summit, No Summit, No Summit,” the students spent their afternoon out of class venting their frustration with the changes in their curriculum. 

The protests were planned on Facebook and a flyer was passed around among students this week that read, “Tuesday 1/29/19 1 p.m. anti-summit walkout. 1 year of redesign anniversary. Let’s show them who’s boss.” Superintendent Gordon Mohn was at the school during the protest — students were told that they needed to stay on school grounds.

“Administration took the necessary steps to ensure student safety. Additionally, every effort was made to communicate with parents of students who participated in the walkout,” said Brandon Simmerlink, principal of McPherson Middle School, in an email sent to families.

Summit uses an online platform, similar to a textbook, that is designed to have students learn at their own pace. Once a student has mastered a certain skill, they can move on to a new module. Teachers are available as mentor and facilitators — and students are encouraged to set their own goals.

Students who were gathered outside said they were often stumped when video material they were assigned was blocked. They said their grades had suffered under the new platform and they wanted more interaction with their teachers. 

“It’s a learning program that is supposed to be a better way, but you are just on a computer,” said Drake Madden, a seventh grader. “Every time I get home, my head starts hurting.” he said.

“Teachers aren’t really teachers, anymore,” he said, a seventh-grade girl who declined to be fully identified, said she agreed saying teachers give the students the materials and students get to work. If they run in to trouble, she said, the teachers will read instructions, and then leave. 

“They don’t explain anything to you like they did last year,” she said.

Simmerlink explained in an email that he and Inge Esping, assistant principal of McPherson Middle School, will be available during “pack time” these next few days to hear students concerns. Students have been directed to check in with their teachers and then meet in the auditorium if they wish to participate. The school’s students were informed of the opportunity during an all-school assembly on Tuesday.

Sessions will be available by grade as follows:

Wednesday: Eighth grade

Thursday: Seventh grade

Friday: Sixth grade

Simmerlink said students are encouraged to voice their concerns with staff and warned of consequences if there are further disruptions.

“While we want to honor students’ right to speech, we also have the duty to ensure school is conducted in an orderly and appropriate manner,” he said. “Should a student participate in a ‘walkout ‘of this nature moving forward, they will be marked as ‘absent unexcused’ and disciplinary action will be taken, including, but not limited to, suspension or expulsion.”