Students at schools across the country are planning walkouts Wednesday in solidarity with the 17 casualties of the shooting last month in Parkland, Florida. Some northeast Indiana schools are citing walkouts as an opportunity for students to participate in a live civics experience.
At least one district, however, isn’t following this trend.
Northwest Allen County Schools issued a statement to parents last week saying, “While we strongly support our students’ rights to peacefully assemble and freely express themselves, we cannot encourage students to repeatedly leave the classroom during the school day and to enter an unsupervised environment.” It added that any student who participates “will be counted as truancy in accordance with normal school policy.”
Like other districts, NACS agrees Wednesday’s walkouts can be a “teachable moment,” but for different reasons. The statement says students can learn to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech “while understanding that there are natural consequences to civil disobedience.”
NACS spokesperson Lizette Downey says the district isn’t actually discouraging students from participating, but wants to keep things “at a minimal, just for sheer safety.” What happens if, say, a parent not only supports their child’s decision to protest, but isn’t okay with the truancy penalty on constitutional principle for exercising that right, either?
“It’s simply an unexcused absence. It’s not, I mean... they aren’t being sent to Wood Youth Center; it’s not that extreme,” said Downey. “It’s just… it’s a minor violation, and we’ll work through that with the families willingly and gladly.”
Despite the statement saying the school cannot let students “repeatedly” leave the classroom, only one walkout is actually planned Wednesday, at 10 am. It’s the one-month anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, and is expected to last 17 minutes, one for each victim.
“There are other things that are happening in terms of being able to express themselves and work on more appropriate or purposeful ways that might actually make an impact, longer than just 15, 17 minutes out in the parking lot,” she said.
Like what? She says students could work on writing to legislators and congresspeople as a way to influence change, as well as voting. She also says the school is encouraging students to “walk up” instead of “walking out.”
“Walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch, invite them to sit with you," she said. "Walk up to the kid who sits quietly in the corner, smile and say hi. Walk up to the kid who may be disruptive and ask him how he’s doing. Walk up to teachers and staff and thank them, and walk up to someone who has a different view than you and get to know them.”
Downey says the school describes this as “a little more thoughtful and thought-provoking” than a walkout, and believes it can provoke meaningful change down the road.
You can read the full statement from NACS, issued on March 7 and authored by the school's director of secondary education Samuel E. DiPrimio, below:
Dear NACS Families and Patrons:
In the wake of the recent occurrence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Fla., it seems prudent that we address some questions and concerns regarding school safety. The events of the last several months, culminating with MSDH, have touched the collective sensibilities of all communities fueling the sentiment, “We need to do something!”
As you are likely aware, students across the country are considering “walkouts” as a means to have their voices heard. We believe that nationally-organized events are currently planned for March 14, March 24 and April 20. We feel it is important to address this topic with you directly so as to prevent any misunderstandings.
A variety of students and student groups proactively reached out to several of our secondary school administrators to discuss meaningful ways to provide opportunities for student voice and expression while maintaining a safe learning environment. We are so blessed to have students with the capacity to challenge appropriately and create and propose alternate means of expression. It is important that these expressions remain consistent with the school mission and purpose while also providing a forum for students. For example, when discussing the wisdom of an advertised walkout, students quickly realized that notifying the country of when they will be outside in an unsecure environment for an extended period of time does not qualify as “best practice” of safety procedures. Many of the students recognized these safety concerns. The proposed options take into account that varying viewpoints may exist and steps toward meaningful dialogue and purposeful action may yield long-term results regarding this national conversation. We value student voice and expression and we are committed to helping our student leaders achieve this without compromising safety.
As mentioned, our top priority is to support the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students while maintaining a safe and orderly environment. While we strongly support our students’ rights to peacefully assemble and freely express themselves, we cannot encourage students to repeatedly leave the classroom during the school day and to enter an unsupervised environment. As a result, if a student does choose to “walk out” of school, it will be counted as a truancy in accordance with normal school policy. Of course, NACS is cognizant of the fact that this can be a teachable moment wherein students may exercise their right to be heard while understanding that there are natural consequences to civil disobedience.
Apart from any peaceful expression, NACS certainly cannot tolerate vandalism or other illegal behavior. Further, members of the community are not permitted to come on to school property during the school day to participate in or otherwise support a demonstration. Quite simply, NACS cannot properly provide for the safety of our students if it does not regulate who is permitted on campus.
NACS fully respects the rights of students to express themselves and certainly appreciates efforts to make our schools safer. That said, NACS must also provide a safe and orderly learning environment and cannot permit repeated disruptions without repercussions. We genuinely thank you for your continued support and understanding. As a school community, all of our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and communities in Parkland, as they continue to work through the healing process.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.