EXCLUSIVE: Indiana Teacher Displays ‘Defund the Police’ Poster in Class with Brother of Slain Officer

Only Weeks After Brother's Death
Public Domain

The younger brother of a slain Indiana police officer spent one of his first days back to school confronted with a “Defund the Police” poster in his English/Language Arts class.

The family of Noah Shahnavaz had taken the last few weeks to grieve for the loss of their firstborn son, killed in the line of duty on the early morning of July 31, 2022. Shahnavaz served in the U.S. Army for five years, and had then served with the Elwood Police Department for just 11 months.

The Shahnavaz family met with the Fishers High School administration, and emails were sent to the younger brother’s teachers to communicate the difficult situation of his returning to class. On Tuesday, he entered his 2nd-block creative writing class, where he saw this “Defund the Police?” poster hanging:

This poster, citing a list of pros and cons to “defunding the police”, a popular progressive movement after the George Floyd protests and riots of 2020, caused the brother of officer Shahnavaz serious distress, his parents report.

Marina Gibson, a 26-year-old ELA teacher and the sponsor for the mental-health club for Fishers high school, says that she displayed the poster as a piece of student work from the previous year and had forgotten to take it down.

According to several students and officers at the Fishers Police Department, Gibson has had issues with the police before. Last year, while police were attempting to investigate a disturbance by an older student suspected of drug use, Gibson reportedly yelled “George Floyd!” and “police brutality!” as the officers were attempting to detain the suspect. Officers’ body camera footage to confirm this has yet to be released.

The full incident as seen from the body cameras of the Fishers Police Department has revealed that both of these claims are false. While Gibson did argue with officers and criticize their drawing guns and style of apprehension, the conversation was cordial. Gibson twice stated in the body camera footage that, despite claims made by another officer, she never said “anything about police brutality.” She did describe her fear of seeing police officers arrest someone could lead to “watch[ing] someone die.”

Those reporting the original claim of Gibson’s yelling “George Floyd!” and “police brutality!” at the incident have declined comment to Chalkboard Review.

Questions have also risen concerning Gibson’s role as a sponsor for the mental-health club, “Bring Change to Mind.” Given the amount of communication concerning the younger brother’s returning to class and Gibson’s interest in special consideration for mental health, one would ask how she missed taking down a “Defund the Police” poster before Noah’s brother returned.

Gibson also has an extensive history of progressive activism. In addition to displaying the progress PRIDE flag in her classroom, Gibson serves on the district equity team. She was awarded the “Grace Farrell Award for Political Engagement and Social Activism” award at Butler University, and was given an award by the Fishers Students in Action club for her “student advocacy.”

The Office of the Attorney General has stated that, as an inherently political organization, Black Lives Matter and its “Defund the Police” movement are not protected as educational content—but are external advocacy and inappropriate for classrooms.

It is yet unclear how Hamilton Southeastern Schools will respond to Gibson’s poster and activism. Since publishing this article, HSE has released a statement that can be found at the bottom of the article. Notably, though Gibson claims the incident was accidental, the new district policy on “microaggressions” declares that doesn’t matter.

The microaggression section of the Hamilton Southeastern Schools handbook states:

Microaggressions can be defined as every day, subtle, intentional or unintentional interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward stigmatized, or culturally or historically marginalized groups. While Hamilton Southeastern understands those individuals communicating a microaggression might not intend to express bias, the school recognizes the responsibility to educate students on the reality of bias perceptions. Issues regarding microaggressions may be addressed through restorative conversations led by school administration, teachers, and/or guidance counselors rather than punitive measures. Habitual occurrences could lead to consequences applicable to inappropriate conduct as defined in Section 28.

It is unclear at this time whether, given the “intentional or unintentional” clause of the policy, Gibson will be held to the same standards as students. 

While several report that the poster was removed by Thursday, the poster remained up for the entire class on Tuesday—despite the Shahnavaz’s immediate protests.

Following a conversation requesting clarification of the timeline with an Indianapolis parent on September 6, 2022; the following events take place in this order and general timeline as is understood by Kinnett and Chalkboard Review (further information concerning these details can be found at the updates section at the bottom of this report):

  • About 10 minutes before 2nd Block “Creative Writing” begins, Shahnavaz contacts his parents over the poster in Gibson’s class.
  • About 5 minutes later, the mother, a teacher in Hamilton Southeastern Schools, sends an email to Gibson expressing distress at the poster.
  • About 10 minutes into class, Gibson responds to mother’s email claiming the poster was a student project from the previous year and that she had forgotten it was up.
  • About 3-5 minutes after that email, the mother asked that the poster be taken down.
  • Following this, the Shahnavaz family reports that the teacher asked the younger brother into the hallway, where he reports Gibson apologized that he hadn’t come to her instead of emailing his parents.
  • The poster remained up for the remainder of the class, but was taken down before his next class with Gibson on Thursday. It is yet unclear when Gibson took down the poster.

Three students reported to Chalkboard Review that a student in class with Shahnavaz had asked Gibson about the poster before the incident took place—but this has not been confirmed.

It is also unclear why Urban and Gibson felt it necessary to remove the poster, as no reason was given in their responses. Questions have been raised as to whether this was to avoid a scandal, or because the political message implied was disturbing, or because a political message has nothing to do with an 11th grade English course.

Neither Principal Urban nor Gibson have yet responded to Chalkboard Review for comment.

While the Shahnavaz family has corroborated the events of the story, the name of their son involved in this incident has been omitted. The family has declined to provide further comment at this time.

At 5:57PM on Friday, August 19, Emily Abbotts, the Director of School and Community Relations for Hamilton Southeastern Schools, sent this to Chalkboard Review:

Here’s a statement that you can include in your “story.”

Our teachers strive to incorporate student-driven, relevant lessons into curriculum while meeting the academic standards as set by the Indiana Department of Education.

A student’s research project from the previous school year, listing the arguments both for and against the movement of “defunding the police” was left on display in a classroom at Fishers High School. As soon as the school was made aware of the issue, the concern was swiftly dealt with. However, we understand the impact was hurtful for individuals, and we deeply regret the pain it caused.

While we allow teachers and students to examine social issues that are relevant to their lives, we affirm publicly through our partnership with local law enforcement that we stand in solidarity of the men and women who willing face dangerous circumstances each day to keep us safe.

Emily Abbotts, Director of School and Community Relations, Hamilton Southeastern Schools

At 10:42AM on Saturday, August 20, Emily Abbots sent this to Chalkboard Review on behalf of Hamilton Southeastern Schools’ Board of Trustees:

The Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board of School Trustees deeply regrets the pain that was caused due to a student-made research poster that was displayed in one of our high school classrooms. As a district we recognize our responsibility to provide a safe environment for students to learn and we failed to provide that in this case.

Losing Officer Shahnavaz, a young alumnus of HSE Schools, who not only served his country selflessly, but was protecting others in his job as a police officer, was devastating. HSE has let the Shahnavaz family know how deeply sorry we are to have contributed to more heartache for them. The teacher involved has apologized as well, and is deeply remorseful for causing additional pain to her student and their family.

HSE does not advocate for defunding the police. HSE works closely with the Fishers Police Department with the resource officers that are present in our buildings, the officers who help with traffic at our schools, and the officers who help monitor our community 24/7 to keep our students safe. We are and continue to be tremendously grateful for their service. Our students, staff and community are much safer because of our relationship with our police department.

HSE Schools will use this experience as an example of how we can and must do better in the future to ensure all our students feel safe, accepted, and supported.

Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board of Trustees, via Emily Abbotts

At 5:43PM on Sunday, August 21, the Shahnavaz family reached out to Chalkboard Review in order to respond to the statement made by Hamilton Southeastern Schools.

We aren’t prepared to issue a statement at this time, but we do need to correct the record due to a misleading statement made [by] the school board. The teacher did not apologize to [our son] for the poster being up. She told our son she was sorry he didn’t talk to her about it.

Shahnavaz Parents

On August 22, 2022, Fishers Councilman Brad DeReamer requested the police bodycam footage from April 29, 2022 at 131st and Brookschool to be released immediately. This bodycam footage is thought to contain Marina Gibson’s interaction with police.

On August 25, 2022, the Fishers Police Department released the full video of the incident described above. The article’s description of the claims and events that took place have been updated by adding new context. The original claims have been left intact to show the contrast of that which was reported from both FPD officers, on-site witnesses, and staff familiar with the situation to that which was revealed on video.

Final slide provided by the Fishers Police Department to the body camera footage, 8/24/2022.

On August 26, 2022, Emily Abbots sent this to Chalkboard Review on behalf of Hamilton Southeastern Schools’ Board of Trustees:

HSE Schools Engages Local Legal Counsel to Oversee School Incident Inquiry

Hamilton Southeastern Schools Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Stokes has selected local attorney Daniel E.
Henke to lead an independent inquiry surrounding a Fishers High School classroom incident involving a
student-directed assignment and poster.

Henke is conducting this work free of charge and will provide a report following his fact-finding process
to Stokes and the HSE Board of School Trustees.

Stokes suggested the idea of an independent inquiry while she and other HSE administrators met with
Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness, Fishers Police Chief Ed Gebhart, Chris Owens of the Fishers Fraternal Order
of Police, Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter, William Owensby of the Indiana Fraternal
Order of Police and Rick Snyder of the Indianapolis Fraternal Order of Police.

Henke currently serves as a municipal judge. He also was a chief deputy prosecuting attorney for
Hamilton County for more than 18 years. Henke served as a town councilor for 11 years for the former
Town of Fishers and is a volunteer for the HSE Schools “We the People” program.

Hamilton Southeastern Schools Board of Trustees, via Emily Abbots

At the discretion of Tony Kinnett and the editing team at Chalkboard Review, an update to the timeline of the events was posted at 10:20AM, September 7, 2022, following a phone call with clarifying questions from an Indianapolis parent. The timeline of these events are based on evidence reported to Chalkboard Review from emails mentioned via the Shahnavaz family, a district administrator who has requested to remain anonymous at this time, and several students who claim to have been in the classroom during the incident. The emails described in this incident have been described—but not released to Chalkboard Review, and we do not believe a FOIA request has been made at this time.

Any additional updates to this story will be made via Chalkboard Review’s social media and/or a separate article. Questions and concerns should be directed to contact@thechalkboardreview.com.

Tony Kinnett
Tony Kinnett is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Chalkboard Review. He is an award-winning science teacher, and the former science coordinator and head instructional coach for Indianapolis Public Schools, until he was fired for whistleblowing information concerning the school system's use of racist material. In February, he was appointed the director of the education nonprofit Choice Media, now Chalkboard Media.

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