This week, students across the nation are planning to walk out of class as a demonstration against gun violence, and local schools say they won’t stop their students from participating.
At Center Grove, a small group of high school students approached the principal about what they could do to show their support for the movement, prompting school officials to send out a letter about the walkout that included a question-and-answer section. At Greenwood Community High School, school officials have been closely working with a group of student activists to make sure that any walkout would not disrupt school, but still allow students to take a stand on an issue important to them.
The National Student Walkout, organized by the same group that organized the Women’s March, will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday and last for 17 minutes — in honor of the number of students killed in last month’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Organizers have asked students to walk out of school to protest inaction by lawmakers over gun violence.
Story continues below gallery
Exactly how many local students will participate isn’t known, school officials said.
At Greenwood Community High School, the walkout could include anywhere from 20 to 1,000 students, Greenwood Superintendent Kent DeKoninck said. At Center Grove High School, the initial email included three or four students, but officials have no idea how many would participate, Superintendent Richard Arkanoff said.
As long as students keep any demonstration peaceful and don’t disrupt school, they wouldn’t face any discipline, local school officials said.
Schools must remain neutral on the issue, but officials view the walkout as a potential learning opportunity.
According to the letter from Center Grove schools: “Our core mission is that of educating our students, no matter how difficult or controversial the topic. It is important for them to utilize their critical thinking skills to formulate opinions and make decisions. By denying them that opportunity, we would essentially cheat them out of the chance to grow and become the intelligent, strong, and thoughtful adults that we know they are capable of becoming.”
At the same time, students also will learn that change isn’t made in one day, and making a difference requires getting involved, Arkanoff said.
The key focus for schools is to be sure that any demonstrations do not disrupt school or become disorderly, officials said.
“I think students by and large want to do this well and do it right to make a significant impact. If you can do it in a peaceful way, that is a big part of growth and being a citizen of the United States,” Clark-Pleasant Schools Superintendent Patrick Spray said.
“Our purpose is to create well-informed citizens, and they do have First Amendment rights and we want students to understand that.”
The preparation for the walkout has been a learning opportunity for students on its own, DeKoninck said.
A group of student activists has been talking with the high school principal about what they would like to do, and the best way to go about it. And those conversations have been respectful and students understand the school has expectations of how they will behave during the walkout, he said.
“It is very clear that our students who want to see change happen are being very respectful of the process and understand the rules and limitations,” he said.
“Parents would be proud of how the kids have handled it. They are not wanting to cause trouble, not thumbing their nose at the school or administration. They are doing it because they want to be part of something that helps promote change.”
At Center Grove High School, students planned the walkout and then approached school officials, Arkanoff said.
For schools, that means making sure that they are prepared for what might happen. School officials did not want to detail their safety plans, but said they have made arrangements so that students are directed to a safe area and are being supervised.
The Center Grove High School campus will be secured, meaning no one will be allowed to come on campus during the walkout. And the school also has made backup plans for where students should go if more participate than initially expected, Arkanoff said.
Schools won’t stop the school day for the 17-minute walkout, or however long is needed to get students back into the building. For students, that means any class work they miss will be their responsibility to work out with their teacher, according to the letter from Center Grove.
And if students have already had multiple tardies and the walkout causes them to have another, they would face whatever discipline is outlined in the student handbook, Spray said.
At Indian Creek schools in southern Johnson County, officials aren’t expecting that students are going to participate in the walkout and have heard no discussion of any plans to demonstrate from their students, Superintendent Timothy Edsell said.
But they are using the national discussion as a way to focus more attention on the issue of school safety, Edsell said.
“We would not discipline them, we would want to start a conversation,” he said.
In recent years, the school district has used state grants to help make the entrances to its four schools more secure and works closely with Trafalgar police, making sure officers are visible in their schools, he said.
But they want to continue the discussion and always look for ways to improve, such as whether different door locks could be useful, or if any practices need to be changed, he said. For example, school officials have become more transparent with students with their fire drill procedures, especially after recent school shootings involved the perpetrator using the fire alarms, Edsell said. They also review their procedures after lockdown drills, and make sure they are doing everything correctly, he said.
What: Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, a group led by women formed to march and demonstrate about multiple issues, is calling for students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to take part in a national school walkout.
When: 10 a.m. Wednesday, lasting 17 minutes
Why: The walkout is meant to protest inaction by members of Congress in response to gun violence.