Rochester City School District students campaign against budget cuts to arts programs, 2010


The students aimed to discourage the Rochester City School Board from passing imminent budget cuts that would remove funding from a number of arts programs in the district. They also sought to raise awareness among the public about the budgeting and administrative decisions of the City School Board in general.

Time period notes

The campaign began when students protested during an awards ceremony held on 5 June 2009. It ended when the final protest was held by students joined by parents and teachers at a City School Board meeting on 18 June of the same year.

Time period

5 June, 2009 to 18 June, 2009


United States

Location City/State/Province

Rochester, New York

Location Description

The campaign was concentrated in the arts neighborhood of the city (where School of the Arts is located), as well as various administrative offices downtown.
Jump to case narrative

Methods in 1st segment

  • Students covered their mouths symbolically with duct tape and stood in the lobby of the school as media covered the Grammy Award Reception event.

Methods in 2nd segment

  • Students wore t-shirts with, and changed their social media profile pictures to, the campaign slogran "Don't Cut Our Teachers" printed on them.
  • Students carried signs that read "Save Our Arts!" "Save Our Teachers!" and "Rights, Equity, Arts!" among other similar messages.
  • Students wore the School of the Arts school colors (white, silver, and black), and t-shirts with the slogan and symbol of the campaign: "Don't Cut Our Teachers!"
  • Students brought their own instruments and several improvised instruments (plastic buckets/ trash cans) and improvised music together as they protested.
  • Students marched from their respective schools to merge together at Rochester City Hall downtown.
  • Students assembled at the sidewalk outside the front entrance to City Hall in downtown Rochester.

Methods in 3rd segment

  • The media recorded the major protest on the 9th, and subsequently interviewed and broadcast information from the students involved.

Methods in 4th segment

  • The media recorded the major protest on the 9th, and subsequently interviewed and broadcast information from the students involved.

Methods in 5th segment

  • The media recorded the major protest on the 9th, and subsequently interviewed and broadcast information from the students involved.

Methods in 6th segment

  • Several students, parents, and teachers attended the City School Board meeting held on June 18th and demonstrated their protestation of the Board's budgeting decisions.

Segment Length

Approximately 2 days

Notes on Methods

Over the course of about one month, the students of the Rochester City School District organized among themselves a number of protests against, as well as continued to raise awareness of, the District's budget cutting decisions. Students used social media websites outside of the actual demonstrations to increase awareness of the issue, and though there were no actual protests from the 3rd to the 5th segments, the local media and the students themselves continued to broadcast information about their efforts.


School of the Arts students, some specifically from the school's chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) as well as in the Student Government (SG).


District parents and teachers

External allies

Not known

Involvement of social elites

Not known


Rochester City School Board budgeting decisions

Nonviolent responses of opponent

None known

Campaigner violence

None known

Repressive Violence

None known


Economic Justice
Human Rights



Group characterization

(Public) Rochester City School District students

Groups in 1st Segment

School of the Arts (SOTA) students

Groups in 2nd Segment

Wilson Magnet High School students
SOTA alums
Local Rochester media groups

Segment Length

Approximately 2 days

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

2 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


1 out of 3 points

Total points

4 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

Because the students failed to achieve their primary goal (to stop the budget cuts from being passed), but definitely did succeed in raising awareness in the community about the issue (they were able to get a large amount of media coverage), they were given a success score of 2 out of 6 possible points.

No attempts were made to hamper the students in their agenda, but despite the fact that the budget was not passed, the students remained unified and supportive of one another. Every year since this protest, the students at SOTA stage another protest against the budget cuts (because of the struggling economy, the threat of further cuts has returned perennially).

After the initial protests, support in the form of parents, teachers, and school alums grew. Where the first protest mainly involved students, the later protests included non-student supporters.

Database Narrative

In the spring and early summer of 2009, the Rochester City School District faced serious budget cuts to its schools. Among the schools to be affected was the magnet School of the Arts (SOTA), one of the highest performing schools in the district, which placed a special emphasis on the inclusion of arts in the student curriculum.

There was a scheduled School Board Meeting to be held regarding the budget cuts on June 10, at which time a vote on whether they were to pass was to take place.

Students throughout the district, but particularly at School of the Arts and Wilson Magnet High School (another high performing school in the district), began organizing a campaign against the budget cuts during the end of the spring semester. Some members of the SOTA chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the Student Government (SG), and other students came to the forefront of the project at SOTA. At Wilson, efforts were headed by Wilson Student Government officials.

In anticipation of the scheduled School Board Meeting, the students at SOTA began what they called the "Save Our Arts" campaign on June 5, 2009. That evening, the school's music department was presented with a Grammy award and a $5,000 fund for its strong record of musical performances. At the event, several students staged a silent protest in the lobby of the school, directly outside of the auditorium in which the award was presented. The students covered their mouths with duct tape to symbolize what they wished to convey was the stifling act of cutting arts-related programs. SOTA students imitated this technique in a YouTube protest video related to the same budget-cutting issue two years later, as well.

The preparation for this and subsequent acts of protests took place after school and on social media websites, such as MySpace and Facebook. Students frequently used the SOTA public address system to make general announcements regarding the scheduling of meetings to prepare for protests. These announcements would take place at the end of the day, with full knowledge on the part of the entire faculty and staff of SOTA. Any physical meetings were held in the classroom of a history teacher (who was also a close mentor of several students) after school.

The campaign developed a number of slogans and images, among them the aforementioned duct taped mouths. Students and alumni were asked on the SOTA Alumni Connection website to wear the school colors (black, silver, and white) on the day of the major protest during the awards ceremony. Participants were also encouraged to change their profile pictures on social media websites to an image of the campaign: a pair of scissors with the slogan "Don't Cut Our Teachers!" printed by them. On the day of the major protest, some students wore white t-shirts with this slogan and image printed on them in black. The SOTA Alumni Connection website encouraged school alums to read personalized letters of support and gratitude for their experience of the arts during the major protest.

Four days after the Grammy award ceremony, on June 9, 2009, somewhere from 200 to 300 students marched from the front entrance of SOTA in downtown Rochester's Neighborhood of the Arts to City Hall. The students marched down Prince Street to East Avenue, and then met up with more student protesters from Wilson Magnet High School.

The students held signs reading "Save Our Arts!", "Save Our Teachers", and "Rights, Equity, Arts". Several music students brought drums and other instruments and played music. The students chanted repeatedly "Save our Arts!" Once they had met up with the Wilson students, the entire group of protesters (now accompanied by some media and a few adults, either supportive parents or alums), marched from Hochstein to City Hall, where a rally took place.

Many speeches asked for sympathy from the School Board, while others took on a more angry tone.

There was a lot of news coverage of the June 9th protest, but at the City School Board meeting held the following day, the budget cuts were approved by a vote of 4 to 3. The City Council also approved the cuts with a vote of 7 to 3. The cuts would eliminate 190 teaching positions throughout the district, concentrated mainly in arts-related positions, and about 88 of these teachers would not be re-hirable the following fall.

On June 18, students protested at a City School Board meeting. Although the protests did bring more attention to the issue of school and particularly arts funding, they did not succeed in preventing the budget cuts from being passed.


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"EDUCATION: More Protests over Cuts to RCSD Teaching Positions - News Articles - Rochester City Newspaper." Rochester NY News, Events, Restaurants, Music, Entertainment, Nightlife. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. <>.

"Tag Archives: School of the Arts Rochester." School of the Arts Rochester. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. <>.

"YNN." Students Protest Proposed City School Teacher Cuts. Web. 06 Apr. 2012. <>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Pendle Marshall-Hallmark, 06/04/2012