School districts in the Ferguson, Missouri area are working to map out a solid plan of action as the city and the nation prepare for the grand jury to make a decision on whether or not they will charge police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
Following the Aug. 9 Brown shooting, Ferguson area residents protested for weeks in response to the incident, causing several local businesses to shut down and schools to close for several days. The protests that took place in both Ferguson and nationwide highlighted major racial tensions between the African American community and law enforcement, and officials are aware that the ruling in this case can possibly spur even more protests to follow.
On Nov. 17, Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Missouri citing “the possibility of expanded unrest.” Now, several school districts in the St. Louis area are also taking proper measures to ensure the safety of their students and staff following the court’s decision. In late October, superintendents of seven school districts near Ferguson asked the prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County, Robert McCulloch, to announce the verdict either on a weekend or after 5 p.m. on a weekday in an effort to prevent disruption during the school day. In response, the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s Office said they will notify district leaders 24 hours in advance if the verdict is made on a weekend and three hours in advance if its made on a weekday.
School district officials say they are communicating with parents, teachers and students about the proper protocol to follow in the event that expanded protests do take place. In the case of Hazelwood School District, the superintendent has sent a letter to the staff outlining how to facilitate, start and manage classroom discussions around the incident and what to do if the decision is made during a school day.
With Ferguson being a district that has 68 percent of its students relying on free or reduced lunch, the issue of food and health also comes into play when school leaders think about an after verdict plan. Therefore, the district is working with church groups to ensure that students still meet their nutritional needs in the event that schools are forced to close their doors.
The grand jury is expected to make a decision within the next few days in regards to whether or not Wilson will be charged.