The planned protest is dividing parents, but district leaders just hope the students stay safe.
CLARK COUNTY — The Valentine’s Day school shooting that left 17 students dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has generated a groundswell of student activism. Led by survivors of the shooting, other students across the country are joining the call for a national conversation about gun control, and security in schools.
Wednesday, on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, the group behind the Women’s March on Washington is asking school children across the country to walk out of class for 17 minutes, starting at 10 a.m.
At least five local high schools, including Columbia River, Camas, Battle Ground and Fort Vancouver have signed up for tomorrow’s walkout. Other schools say they’re aware of the fact that students may decide to walk out at 10 a.m.
In a letter to parents, Ridgefield High School principal Christen Palmer said they’re aware of the possibility of a walkout, and another regional effort to gather at the state capitol to push for gun reform.
“When students advocate for an issue they feel passionate about,” the statement reads, “it can be a powerful learning experience. We also recognize that some students may not want to participate in a walkout and would prefer to stay in class. We want to ensure that all students feel safe and respected, no matter what they choose to do.”
Palmer says they’re encouraging students to remain on campus, for their well-being. Classes at Ridgefield High School will continue as scheduled, even if students decide to walk out. Palmer also urged parents to talk with their kids about school safety, and whether the student should participate in the walkout. Ridgefield School District is holding a Safety Night Open House at the high school commons Wednesday evening from 5-7 p.m, and is encouraging parents and students to attend.
Evergreen High School, while not on the official list of walkouts, expects a number of students to participate. ESD Superintendent Dr. John Steach sent a letter home with students to inform parents of the district’s position on the possible walkout.
“As part of a recently implemented set of student expectation policies adopted by the Evergreen School Board,” says Steach, “is one regarding citizenship that includes a section stating ‘students will understand how to appropriately advocate for change.’ The nationally planned 17 minute silent walkout on March 14 can be viewed as a learning opportunity for informed and motivated students to discuss intent, method, and overall impact as well as the exploration of what other actions could be taken in place of, or in addition to, a walkout. If a student-led walkout does occur in our schools, the top concern is that we maintain a safe and secure learning environment for all and we are putting plans in place to ensure this.”
In a letter to staff, Steach said teachers are to remain in class and continue teaching any students who don’t walk out. He also encouraged teachers to make sure students know it’s OK to remain behind and not take part in the protest. While parents of kids who walk out may receive a notice of an unexcused absence, it’s not expected to result in added punishment for students, unless they have existing attendance issues.
For Battle Ground High School, which is on the participation list, and Prairie High School, the principals of each school sent a letter home to parents which reads, in part:
“We recognize the event as a powerful moment of civic education and a good lesson in
democracy. While we will not encourage students to participate in the event, we recognize
students’ rights to peacefully demonstrate. We encourage parents and guardians to talk with
your child about the event and his or her participation.”
The schools will move their Tiger Time/Falcon Support time to coincide with the walkout. Since attendance isn’t tracked during that time, students won’t face punishment if they participate in the protest. The kids are asked to remain on campus and return to class in time for third period. Middle Schools in Battle Ground school district will operate on regular class schedules.
The issue of school safety, especially when it comes to gun control, is clearly a divisive one. Asked if they would support the students in their walkout, respondents on ClarkCountyToday.com’s Facebook page were sharply divided. A few said the generation eating Tide Pods on a dare shouldn’t be in charge of setting policy. Others worried the kids might be putting themselves at greater risk by walking out of the relative safety of their school building.
Many of the comments centered around alternative solutions to the issue of violence in schools.
“I heard a better suggestion for the students. A walk ‘in’” said Brett Venneri. “Stay in school and spend the designated time making new friends. Find that one kid that is quiet and go introduce yourself. Find that one kid that has no friends and introduce yourself. Make all kids feel welcome and accepted and maybe that just might be the trick. That might be that one handshake that prevents a school shooting.”
Gail Childs agreed: “This really is teaching them what to do when they don’t like something! Walk out, demonstrate instead of what they should do. Don’t bully! Don’t ignore people! Be nice to everyone! Pay attention & if you feel something isn’t right, tell someone!!”
Travis Winn wondered whether the schools should actually be teaching kids about firearms safety as part of their education. A number of other people wondered why, if the kids cared so much, they didn’t organize a protest outside of normal school hours.
A number of people said they support the students’ activism, and the goal they’re trying to achieve.
“I encourage it wholeheartedly,” says Rachel Potwin. “They can’t vote and the adults that can vote are failing them. They need to be able to do SOMETHING to bring attention to their lack of safety, and if all they can come up with is peaceful protesting then they have my support.”
John Hegel agreed with that, “They walk out it teaches them about first amendment right. 2nd amendment is not the only one we follow. It is for 17 minutes, so a short time. Also talk to your kids about talking to kids they normally won’t talk to.”
Melissa Gonzalez says she’s OK with the walkout, with a caveat: “I am all for allowing them to do so, if they can express why they are doing it in a full-page essay. Not just for a reason to walk out and chill with friends.”
To be part of the discussion visit our Facebook Page, or comment below. Are you talking with your kids about the walkout? If so, what do they have to say about it?