The protest whereby professional athletes kneel during the national anthem came to New Canaan recently, as a handful of St. Luke’s School students knelt on the field during a homecoming football game, officials confirmed.
Mark Davis, head of school at the North Wilton Road private school, said he had been approached by a female student in the choir about 10 days prior to the Oct. 21 football game. The student told him she was thinking about kneeling because she felt its original purpose, starting last season with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick—bringing awareness to and protesting police brutality— had been lost.
Davis recalled that the student asked what he thought of the prospect that she would engage in the protest—hailed by some as peaceful and assailed by others, including President Trump—as disrespectful.
“And I said to her, ‘That it is your constitutionally protected right to engage in political expression’ ,” Davis recalled. “ ‘There are Supreme Court cases. You have a right to do it and no one at school would issue an edict that says you cannot.’ ”
He continued: “I encouraged her to think about why she would do it and to understand that there would be people who would not like that she did it, and she well understood that. And I did let people know I would be standing, that is what I prefer to do.”
Davis said the choir sang the national anthem prior to the start of five different athletic contests on that Saturday, and that during the football game only did a handful of choir members and players kneel.
No one said anything to Davis during Homecoming, he said, “but since then there have been some parents write to me to express their concerns.”
“There were two for sure and they were fairly upset about it and I have actually scheduled conversations with them in person this coming week,” he said. “It’s important that we model the civil discourse we are asking our students to engage in.”
A St. Luke’s faculty member last year developed a type of gathering that is specifically designed to help students talk with one other about difficult matters, Davis said. During the week prior to the Homecoming game, the school held a “Dive In,” which is designed to “help kids from different points of view and experiences have civil conversations where they do not have to agree on things but talk with each other, as opposed to debating to win points,” he said.
Davis himself was so inspired by the conversations had there that he published a blogpost on the school’s website, a meditation on freedom of expression.
“It saddens me when people are upset by things that happen,” Davis said of the parents who voiced concerns to him following the football game. “I also have received a number of messages and had conversations with people who are really pleased that this is the kind of thing that can happen in school, and even from people who oppose the kneeling that they are pleased we did not shut it down. Because we really work so hard to help kids talk with each other.”
The student body moved on from the protest quickly, Davis said, as participating and supportive students mixed with those opposed at a dance that same Saturday night.
“We don’t have a polarized student body,” Davis said. “It’s not that all agree—some strongly disagree with the [protest’s] symbolism.”
He added: “There are some adults who are not happy.”
“I feel as a school that our job is to encourage all people of all points of view to engage in a heartfelt and respectful conversation about these things, and political expression is one of them, as long as you are not doing something that will literally injure somebody,” Davis said.