Confirming a report that went up on Twitter this afternoon, Occupy Portland members who had been invited for an afternoon teach-in by a sixth-grade teacher at Astor School told me they were asked to leave the building by administrators just 20 minutes into their presentation.
Raya Cooper, 23, said she was one of four occupiers who'd been invited for a 12:30 session by teacher James Clark. Cooper is part of an Occupy group that has gone before church groups, college classes, and others, to talk about the aims and goals and challenges of Occupy.
She said Clark's class of sixth-graders, plus another teacher's class of seventh-graders, had jumped right into a robust (but teacher-moderated) brainstorming exercise that had asked the students which issues Occupy Wall Street should focus on: racial inequities, police brutality, bank bailouts, war, foreclosures, etc.
About then, the session was interrupted by another school employee who made Clark tell the group they had to leave. He told them his higher-ups were "uncomfortable" with the discussion, Cooper says.
"We asked the class what they thought was wrong, and they all raised their hands," she says, noting that one girl told the panel as they left, "they don't want you to plant the seeds of change in our society. They don't want you to plant those seeds."
They left at 12:50, Cooper says. Another of the panelists, Hil Boyd, posted an account on Facebook, too.
Update 4:25 PM: Portland Public Schools spokesman Matt Shelby didn't quibble with the account of what happened—and said the decision to end the panel came directly from Astor Principal Karl Newsome.
Newsome apparently learned of the panel only after the occupiers had signed in with the school's secretary—and district procedure generally calls for principals to sign off when outside groups are brought in, especially to talk to kids younger than high school age, Shelby says, acknowledging the way it all went down was awkward.
"I would classify Occupy as a political group. If you're going to bring in an outside political group, that's okay," he says. "It'd be fine for them to talk to sixth- and seventh-graders. But I know if we had Occupy come in to talk to a middle school class and we didn't let parents know that was going to happen, there'd be a very good chance we'd have some very angry parents."
I asked him if the same rules would apply to a different political group, like, say, the Tea Party. "Absolutely."
"We don't want to shy away from difficult subjects, but we want to make sure we're going to do it in an appropriate space."
Shelby says Clark isn't in any trouble "that I'm aware of, but he also said that a teacher who invites a group in "has to do his homework." He said he asked Newsome if he'd be willing to bring back Occupy for a discussion, and Newsome told him he would, once he's had "time to lay the proper groundwork and talk to parents."
Let's all check back to make sure that happens.