“If you’re a Classical student you probably know why we are here today,” said a student organizer to the growing crowd of Classical High School students in Providence who left their classrooms to join a protest outside their school at noon on Friday. The students were protesting the continued employment of Ramona Bessingera Providence Public School Department (PPSD) teacher who has made a second career of sorts out of opposing transgender rights and what she calls “critical race theory” or CRT in schools.
The protest lasted just under two hours, and was entirely peaceful, but calls from all over the country, some threatening, pressured school officials to cancel the walkout and protest. Classical High School officials called the parent of a student organizer and demanded that they get the student “under control” but the parent supported their child, and the protest went ahead as planned.
“What is going on is that Ramona Bessinger is a teacher that bounced from school to school to school,” said a student organizer to the crowd of now over 100 students joining the protest. “She has me blocked, but her Twitter is like a breeding ground of vitriol. [Bessinger] says she isn’t transphobic. She has tweets up calling out biological men, saying they can’t become women.”
“What do we think about that? Is that bullshit?” the student organizer asked the crowd.
“Yeah!” replied the student protesters.
In an opinion piece published on Tuesday in the school newspaper Classical Chronicle and republished on Uprise RI, student Damon Drury outlined the case against Bessingernoting that many students, especially transgender and queer youth, do not feel safe in her class.
“She has tweets [calling] the students of Providence Public Schools, who are majority Black and brown, thugs,” said a student organizer to the protesters. “If you don’t know that that’s racist, I can’t have a conversation with you…
“If I told you everything that I know that this woman has done, we would be here until 5pm.”
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The issue, said students, is bigger than one bad teacher. “We all have teachers who we know say slurs they shouldn’t say,” said a student organizer. “I’ve heard teachers intentionally misgender students for years. PPSD protects bigots!”
Students stepped forward to tell personal stories about being in Bessinger’s class, or to read aloud from her social media posts.
“I had Miss Bessinger for third period English,” said one student. “And during that time she took time out of our class to do a 40 minute rant denouncing [the concept of] white privilege. She said the reason white people have more generational wealth is that Black people’s ancestors were basically lazy.”
Throughout the class, said the student, Bessinger told students there was no such thing as white privilege, said the student, “But if this were true, Miss Bessinger would not still be in the school.”
Another student had Bessinger as her homeroom teacher. “And every since school started she’s confused me with another Black girl. We look nothing alike. She’s light-skinned, I’m darker than her. We look nothing alike.
“And when people don’t stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, she always looks butt-hurt… She always complains about the school system,” said the student. “Then leave, it’s not that hard. Maybe go on Fox News, ask an announcer.”
Another student stepped forward to read some of Bessinger’s tweets out to the students.
Sometimes the students had trouble getting through the tweets, they were laughing so much. “What is she talking about?” asked one student.
The students directly called out some of the people photographing and filming them from the edges of the crowd.
“If you’ve noticed people hanging around who look a little white, a little old, a little crusty, a little fash-y – we got some fascism going on – the reason they’re here is because she called the fascists on her own students. She posted, on Legal Insurrection, telling them that we were going to protest today and to come out and support her.”
The student organizer was referring to conservative activists associated with Parents United RI, who showed up just before the protest began. Bessinger provided a statement to Legal Insurrection in an article ahead of the protest, published yesterday. Classical High School began receiving threatening calls later that day, says the parent of a student organizer. Bessinger is a celebrity on Legal Insurrection and has published four articles written by herself on the website.
The article published just ahead of the protest falsely asserts that the protest was organized with the help of “activist mob teachers.” Uprise RI spoke to a student organizer and to the parent of the organizer who said no teachers were involved in the planning or execution of the protest. In fact, the school took steps to prevent the protest from happening.
“The Classical Administration pulled me out of my second period class today, sat me down for two hours and tried to make me come up with a solution to what they were going to do [if people came to counterprotest.]said a student organizer. School officials called the student’s mother and father. “My father had to come in if I was going to do this,” said the student. “I was scared. I was crying. I don’t want to get suspended. I don’t want to face disciplinary action.”
The student led the protest with the support of their parent.
“Bessinger says that we’re here because of a ‘woke activist mob of teachers’ forcing us to do this,” said an organizer through the megaphone, and got incredulous laughs from the crowd. “Where are they? Teachers, can you please stand up and raise your hands for me?”
Yet another student approached and took the megaphone.
“Ramona Bessinger had a Dominican girl in her class that didn’t speak good English at the time. She had often asked for help when it came to English class. [Bessinger] was specifically targeting her and was being aggressive and rude to her for no reason. [But] we know the reason,” continued the student. “The girl took it upon herself to go to the office to try to get some help. Instead of the school addressing the real problem – the bigoted racist – they removed the girl from the class with no reason why. It’s shit like this that makes me question if PPSD is siding with is, or with them.”
“She calls herself a Christian, right? But Jesus’ whole doctrine was ‘Love others as you love yourself,'” said a student, to cheers from the protesters. “So what is this hypocrisy? You say you are Christian, but you preach a whole different story.”