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Schools prepare for planned student walkouts

By TRAVIS WEIK - tweik@thecouriertimes.com

The people behind the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., are calling for students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to take part in a #NationalSchoolWalkout at 10 a.m. March 14.

The group wants demonstrators to be out of their buildings for 17 minutes that morning, signifying the 17 students and teachers who were killed Feb. 14 in a Florida school shooting.

#NationalSchoolWalkout is to “protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods,” the Women’s March Network said on the event campaign website.

Although no local schools have registered walkout events on the official event page, Henry County students have been discussing the protest and school leaders are paying attention.

Area superintendents and teachers communicate with each other all the time about school safety issues, regardless of district boundaries.

“Our administrative team has been making plans since the idea first came to our attention,” said Nettle Creek School Corporation Superintendent Dr. William Doering.

Doering said Hagerstown Jr. Sr. High School Principal Mark Childs and Hagerstown Elementary School Principal Tiffani Hokey have been talking with staff about possible walkouts.

“Mr. Childs is currently working with a group of students who want to do something to support the cause within acceptable limits,” Doering said. “I have not heard about the results of their conversations yet. We will adhere to board policy guidelines and address the matter as a disciplinary issue if students choose to violate school rules.”

Blue River Valley Schools informed families in their district that student walkouts are being planned across the country this month and that they are connected to both school-security issues and to gun-rights issues.

“At Blue River Valley it is our expectation that that students will be in school, in class and receiving instruction,” said BRV Superintendent Eric Creviston. “However, we also agree with students that schools need to be safe and secure spaces for learning, and we respect the points of view of the students on this issue.

“It is, after all, their issue,” Creviston said, “and they just saw our own legislature vote against an amendment to SB 188 earlier this very week, which would have appropriated $100 million to fund school safety.”

Creviston said he and the BRV school staff insist that any demonstrations will be in a safe, secure and low-risk location, and the school leadership will work with students to help them approach this in a safe manner.

“Our students will know that any assembly will be welcome into safe places inside of our schools,” Creviston said. “If students assemble in safe locations before or after school, they will not be considered absent or disruptive to learning.”

If Blue River parents wish to take their students to other demonstrations and have them out of school that day, it will be considered an excused absence so long as the school has a parent note, Creviston said.

The absence will still count against perfect attendance records, even if it is a partial day out.

“Our administrators, teachers and local law enforcement will not tolerate any protests, demonstrations, visitations, or presence on our campus at any time of any outside parties who do not belong here,” Creviston warned. “That would clearly be a disruption to our student’s right to an education and a safe school, and I will remove them post-haste.”

Shenandoah School Corporation Superintendent Ron Green said the focus at his schools recently has been about ISTEP+ testing. 

“Our administrators have shared there have been no conversations at this point from students in regards to walkouts,” Green said. “We want to keep all students and staff safe.”

New Castle High School Associate Principal Kenon Gray was recently in the audience of a political debate. When the topic of walkouts came up, Gray said NCHS had plans to support the student event.

“They’re going to allow it,” Gray said.

Gray said the plan was for some of the New Castle teachers to accompany high school students in a walk around the football field carrying signs that conveyed positive messages.

Other schools and groups around the United States are planning student walkout events for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.