1972 Omaha North High School Student Assembly

Omaha North High vikings banner

North High School in Omaha, Nebraska, is my alma mater. Coincidentally, they made strides in student voice advocacy long before I ever got there. Here’s what I have uncovered.

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Starting in the late 1960s, students at North High School in Omaha, Nebraska, struggled to promote student voice in school. By the time I was attending the school in the late 1980s and early 90s, there was none of that movement left. But it 1972, student advocates within the school leveraged a conversation with the principal into a plan for building-wide student representation in serious school issues, including budgeting, hiring and firing, curriculum and more.

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The students’ plan entailed creating new functions for the extant student council in school, and ensuring the student council more effectively reflected the student population.

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While the attached article sounds optimistic, there’s little evidence this plan was either implemented, or if it was, whether it was sustained for very long. However, this does sound a positive note for history, and implies the future is only getting better! Imagine how strong the student voice movement was in 1972 that an urban high school in Omaha, Nebraska was compelled to engage student advocates in serious problem-solving.

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1972 Omaha student voice
This 1972 article from the Omaha World-Herald is entitled, “Student voice in the schools grows a little.”
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São Paulo Students Occupy Schools

Student activists occupy a school in São Paulo, Brazil
Student activists protest government school reforms excluding their voices in São Paulo, Brazil.


SoundOut is excited to share this piece by Lilian L’Abbate Kelian and Iara Haasz about recent student-led activism in São Paulo, Brazil!


Occupy Schools: Students in São Paulo Demanding A Role In Improving Education

Written by Iara Haasz and Lilian L’Abbate Kelian, November 19, 2015 (São Paulo, Brazil) — On November 10, 2015, public school students in São Paulo State started a movement to occupy their schools when the São Paulo government began forcing an agenda to restructure of schools that didn’t include students as partners.


The proposal would affect 311,000 students and their families; and 74,000 teachers in 1,464 schools. It was announced by the State’s Educational Administration in September. According to São Paulo State Secretary of Education Herman Voorwald, the proposal is based on a number of studies and statistical data with the goal of improving the quality of education. The main idea is to reduce the complexity of school administration by separating schools into three levels: “Ensino Fundamental I” (ages 6 to 10), “Ensino Fundamental II” (ages 11 to 14) and “Ensino Medio” (ages 15 to 17).


Education experts agree on the idea that education system restructuring is needed, but also agree that the government proposal must be widely discussed. However, neither the proposal or the studies supporting it were made public.


Starting on October 6th, students in São Paulo have been demonstrating in order to pressure the São Paulo educational administration into making the proposal’s details public. Protests intensified starting October 25th, when the educational administration announced the closure of 94 schools. The fate of these schools is unknown.


On November 10th student activists occupied 2 schools, Fernão Dias Public School and Diadema Public School. The following day the educational administration announced their willingness to negotiate with student activists. However, negotiations failed when students didn’t accept the requirement that they leave the schools and go to the state administration building. Instead, they sought for government representatives to come to the schools to negotiate. Shortly afterwards, the government ordered military police to vacate the Fernão Dias Public School. However, a judicial order prevented that the police entered the school. According to the judge, the student activists’ occupation is a public policy issue and there is no threat that justifies police action.


Since then the student activists’ movement has grown, with 70 schools currently occupied. Unfortunately, police violence towards the students is happening, especially in the outskirts of São Paulo. The student activists have secured the support of parents, educators, journalists, lawyers and human rights activists.



November 11, 2015 (Sã0 Paulo, Brazil) The following is a public statement written by student activists who are occupying Fernão Dias Paes School:
We started to organize after the government’s announcement of the restructuring and closing of schools. Since the 6th of October, we are organizing demonstrations seeking dialogue about the way the process was being done. After not being heard by any instance, we saw in the idea of occupying a way to enhance the voice of the students.


If we are the ones being restructured we must take part in this process. We, students, excluded from the restructuring process will be affected by spending cuts resulting from these measures. All participants in this occupation are high school students. We entered yesterday, November 10th, in the morning and prevented the entrance of teachers and coordinators. We held an assembly with only students and decided to occupy the school.


Our struggle is the struggle of all students. We will not accept any proposal that does not encompass all state schools affected. In the dialogue with the government there was no negotiation. During the occupation there was no initiative from the government to negotiate our claims. Remediation only confirms that public education today trains cheap labor. Not to oppose this is to accept the precarization of public education.
Occupying schools is another strategy to struggle for education. This occupation remains only with the solidarity of collaborators. To continue the struggle we need to come together and occupy the schools and thus achieve our goal: Prevent the Restructuring.
Against the restructuring, lets occupy the schools! For better education!



The government came hot and I’m already boiling

The government came hot and I’m already boiling

You want to defy us? I don’t understand

Against students? You gonna lose F

ernão, school for struggle Diadema, school for struggle

Ana Rosa, school for struggle

Prepare your self, if you close, we’ll occupy!

Watch a video of this update at https://www.facebook.com/mal.educado.sp/videos/vb.291834600950292/720062384794176/?type=2&theater


Elsewhere Online

In the following video, a student activist shares how the regional director of education called some parents to speak with her at the government education office. After elaborating on why parents do not represent the student movement, she says parents are aware of that and won’t be complicit in the government’s attempts to derail the student activists. After being told that the regional director agreed to meet with the students at the school at 7:30am the next day, the student activists woke early to prepare. However, the regional director of education didn’t show, instead calling the parents to her office instead of coming to the school. The student says, “if she wants to talk to us, tell her to come here to the school and we will talk with her.” You can watch the video at https://www.facebook.com/FisicaDaRepressao/videos/927708653983799/


Despite mainstream media’s reports to the contrary, student activists occupying the Fernão Dias Public School take care of their school. They prepare the meals, organize the cleaning and keep the school in order. In mainstream media, the student activists are being called vandals. You can learn more at https://www.facebook.com/jornalistaslivres/videos/328137493976801/


You can find a map of the Occupied Schools where student activists are protesting against the government-ordered education restructuring in São Paulo at https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=z1kij_3A0EM8.k2x_iUJW21z8


There are ongoing updates on a Facebook page called O Mal Educado at https://www.facebook.com/mal.educado.sp/timeline


There is a joke pictures about the overcrowded classrooms at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=739372576197499&set=a.393548330779927.1073741826.100003742894448&type=3&theater


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The Neutral Zone

In 1998, teens in Ann Arbor, Michigan worked together with adult allies to form a nonprofit youth center called The Neutral Zone. Driven and centered by young people and their interests, the organization has made powerful inroads for youth throughout their area. In 2012, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) approached the organization about infusing student voice across the state through the agency’s Safe and Supportive Schools (S3) initiative.

Targeting the lowest performing high schools statewide in Michigan, the program sought to raise levels of academic achievement through new school reform programs. Neutral Zone provided training and coaching to support teams of both staff and students from six pilot high schools. The goals were to have each team research school issues related to their school reform efforts, plan and implement a project that addresses one of the issues and to create an advisory body that could support sustained student involvement.

Over the last three years, Neutral Zone has provided intensive support for 20 high schools statewide focused on training and technical assistance on student voice. Their work has been lauded by the MDE as a success, with reports of student-driven projects that engage students deeply coming in from across the state.

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Elsewhere Online

Organization of Ontario Secondary Students

The Organization of Ontario Secondary Students, or OOSS, is a network of students who want to address education issues in Ontario and beyond.


The OOSS has one goal: to push students past what they thought was possible. We know there can be many hurdles ranging from school to finances with anything one does. We want to ensure that every student is successful in respect to their passion, be it science, business, social activism, athletics, sleeping, or anything else of their choosing.

Currently, OOSS is placing a special focus on reaching more schools across Ontario, strengthening the student-School board relation, improving organization and challenging ambassadors to take on more leadership opportunities within their region.

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Offsite Info

Montgomery County Student Alliance

The Montgomery County Student Alliance was a 1,000-member student-led education organizing group in Maryland in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


Formed in early 1969, the Alliance worked to change schools, saying they “presently inhibit students’ individuality, creativity and independent thinking.” They published a report criticizing the school system as rigid and authoritarian and one that “didn’t encourage free inquiry or discussion.”

Alliance members met with employees of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in neighboring Washington, D.C. as well. That department was the predecessor of the U.S. Department of Education.


The FBI’s COINTELPRO program maintained informants in the Alliance and spied on students as young as 14. No reason for the FBI`s activities was located.

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