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Middle school teacher placed on leave after leading Black Lives Matter-related student walkout

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An Oregon middle school placed a social studies teacher on leave after he reportedly marched with middle school students in a walkout protest related to the Black Lives Matter movement.

What are the details?

According to KATU-TV, teacher Chris Riser reportedly staged the walkout Feb. 9 during school hours at Ockley Green Middle School in Portland.

In a February report, the station said that the impromptu protest followed a Black Lives Matter activist's speech during a morning student assembly that was led by Riser and the BLM activist.

KATU reported that after speech wrapped up, the activist began walking out of the school, and encouraged students to follow suit.

The students also reportedly participated in a "die-in" by lying down in the middle of Martin Luther King Boulevard. The students' obstruction reportedly caused a traffic backup, and "at one point, the students had to move out of the way of an ambulance that crossed through the intersection."

Principal Paula McCollough notified parents that students had left the school after the assembly, and engaged in a several-mile walk that went "past the Portland Police Bureau's North Precinct," according to the letter.

The march in its entirety reportedly took up more than two hours of school time.

According to McCollough's letter, "teachers and one administrator" followed the processional to "help ensure student safety":

Dear Ockley Green community,

We had an unannounced and unorganized protest by our students this morning, and I wanted to make sure you had information about it.

At 9:15 a.m. today, students gathered in the auditorium for a schoolwide 15-minute assembly to hear an activist discuss a community art project related to Black Lives Matter, with the understanding that students would return to class when the presentation was over.

The activist then walked outside and asked students to follow, and many of them did. Teachers and one administrator followed to help ensure student safety. The group then marched to Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct. The march proceeded to Jefferson High School, past Portland Community College and back to Ockley Green. Portland Police officers sent officers and patrol cars to escort the students, block streets, and keep everyone safe.

The protest was not organized or condoned by Ockley Green administrators or Portland Public Schools.

We are proud of our students for taking an interest in current events involving the community as well as our larger society. However, we want students and staff to know that there are more appropriate ways to organize an event. If we work together, we can ensure student safety and minimize disruption to the school while still honoring students’ voices.

What has the school said about Riser's suspension?

KATU reported on Sunday that Riser had been placed on leave as a result of the walkout.

A school spokesperson confirmed that after reviewing the February incident, the administration placed the social studies teacher on leave. The spokesperson would not specify on what type of leave the teacher was placed.

According to the outlet, witnesses reported that Riser told the students that he was going to walk toward the Portland Police North Precinct and that he planned to meet with the family of Quanice Hayes, who was shot and killed by a Portland police officer in 2017.

One of the middle school students revealed, KATU said, that "Riser told students that he was going to leave without the students, he wanted them to come with, but told them not [to]."

No other school staff were placed on leave in connection with the February incident.

"There were two other teachers and an assistant principal who rushed out to join them when it became obvious they weren’t following directions and returning to class," Dave Northfield, a spokesperson for the school district, told the station. "If they hadn’t done that, there would have been over 200 students following the teacher and Teressa Raiford, a well-known activist."

Are other people chiming in?

Some parents of the middle school students created a petition to have Riser return to teaching at the school. As of Tuesday, the petition had received over 2,000 signatures.

"By placing [Riser] on administrative leave, it is teaching our children that speaking up for what they believe in is wrong," a portion of the petition states. "Some of the best education we can learn is not in the classroom but from social interactions. Chris Riser is a young, energetic, engaging teacher who should not be punished for something we all agree on. (e.g. gun violence in schools)."

According to the station, parents plan to rally outside of the school April 2 in support of Riser.

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