School responds after ‘police brutality’ posters cause outrage on social media

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Police brutality poster

Leaders at a Mt. Morris high school are addressing several posters that were on display and raising eyebrows.

The posters were made by students and had “police brutality” written on them. Pictures of them were posted on social media Tuesday night. Since then, the post has garnered dozens of comments and more than 100 shares with people on both sides expressing their thoughts about the posters.

It happened at Elisabeth Ann Johnson High School in Mt. Morris.

A man posted photos of the posters saying he is upset with the anti-police message he thinks the assignment was sending to students. “Mt. Morris schools are perpetuating the narrative, lies and victimhood,” his post read.

His post raised questions about what prompted the posters.

Mt. Morris Superintendent Renae Galsterer said it was for a social studies class in which students were learning about the fourth and fifth amendments – search and seizure, as well as the prohibition of self-incrimination and double jeopardy and the mandate of due process.

This led some students to choose to do their final project on topics like Terry Frisk, Miranda Rights and police brutality.

Galsterer went on to apologize and said they never wanted to upset or offend police officers.

“That was never the intent and the posters have been removed so that we can study them and create adjustments in future work,” she said.

You can read Galsterer’s complete response to TV5’s questions below:

Q: Can you just tell me what you know about the assignment? What the intended goal of it was?

A: We offer a Law I class as a social studies elective for our students. This particular part of the class was a culminating project for a unit focused on the 4th and 5th amendments. With relation to these two amendments there is a focus on current laws linked to current events within the class structure. This was an entire unit–but some of the instruction and discussion delved into students’ rights (both as minors or as adult-aged) in schools and in the community. Law enforcement rights in relation to the amendments and youth/adult rights were studied and discussed as well. Some of the pieces inside the general topics included Terry frisk and Miranda rights. Other topics included risks of both officers and citizens, barriers or perimeters of the laws linked to the amendments, and discussion of incidents involving property–both automobile and home. Students studied cases related to the topics. The students discussed and were particularly interested in the evolution of community policing and school liaison/school resource officers.

The posters that you sent me photos of were examples of parts of final projects for this 4th and 5th amendment unit. In this hallway there was a displayed explanation of the posters. The posters you have photos of were on the topic of police brutality (as their titles indicate). There were several other topics in that same display–those topics included Terry Frisk, Compare and Contrast of Miranda Rights, specific court cases related to the amendments designed as summaries and the purpose and role of Constitutional Amendments. Students selected various topics because they had an interest linked to class discussion, current events in our world/in the media and various works of youth literature.

As added information (which does not cover the entirety of the class) this class also:

• has our resource officer as a frequent speaker for both presenting information and leading discussion. A similar experience includes social workers so that students can see the link between mental illness and those that struggle to abide by the law

• visits the 7th District Court to observe a trial or sentencing

• tours the Genesee County Jail

Q: Did the school receive any complaints? Did the school take any action after the assignment (i.e. taking the posters down, reprimanding the teacher, etc.)? Or did the school feel the assignment was a fair one and decide no action was necessary?

A: We have had one phone call to our office this morning as a concerned citizen having a complaint. The officer that took this photo didn’t speak to any school employee about it prior to posting it to social media and commenting on it. Yesterday we had several law enforcement officers come into our high school and middle school for a routine exercise. They bring their trained canines and have the dogs and officers utilize their training by “sniffing” for illegal substances–lockers, bathrooms, classrooms that have had the students temporarily relocated. This benefits our school because we are able to spot check for these substances and take necessary action while simultaneously sending a message that those substances will be “checked for.” It also is an opportunity for the officers and their canine partners to practice and train. We do this about once a year. One of the officers involved took these photos, said nothing to any school personnel, and then posted them to social media–beginning this controversy. Had we known that an officer (or officers) were offended and upset we would have taken it as a learning opportunity–both for our adults involved and students. It could have been a meaningful conversation that actually built understanding and bridges.

Our teacher and students have a deep respect for all law enforcement officers and their duty. This class actually creates a great deal of interest for out students to pursue careers in law enforcement. We utilize information from this classroom experience to select and send students for training at the Michigan State Police training facility.

Certainly there was no ill intent or disrespect meant by these posters. I sincerely apologize for any message of disrespect or misinformation that was interpreted by the photos or my students’ projects. That was never the intent, and the posters have been removed so that we can study them and create adjustments in future work. It is my hope that what I have shared clarifies the hurt and anger that individuals have written on social media. It is also my hope that we, as professionals, learn from this experience and have enlightened conversation and educational experiences for our students.

I would always ask that we be given the opportunity to have a conversation, prior to a social media post, if and when we have hurt and offended. I have a very positive and open professional relationship with our local law enforcement, and we communicate frequently. I know if they ever have a concern with anything within our district they either come to see me or call. We have strong mutual respect. They love my students and consider their role as our community’s protectors their number one priority.

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