Editor's note: On Wednesday, suburban high school students will join a national walkout to protest what they call congressional inaction on gun control. It's a movement that began after the Feb. 14 shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 teens and staffers dead. Some suburban schools will allow students to walk out of class to attend outdoor demonstrations. Others, including Community Unit District 300, cite safety reasons in opting for alternative indoor events. What follows is an email -- edited for length -- that Superintendent Fred Heid sent to parents explaining his district's position.
There have been numerous high school "walkouts" where students have seized the opportunity to show their support for the victims of school violence and the topic of school safety. To date, these have been peaceful walkouts, largely coordinated through the school's administration. There are now three dates being promoted to encourage students, teachers, and parents to lend their voice to these issues and topics.
March 14th: National School Walkout Day: Organized by the Women's March's Youth Empower group, National School Walkout Day asks that students walkout for 17 minutes: "At 10 a.m. in every time zone, organizers are encouraging teachers, students, administrators, parents and allies to walk out for 17 minutes -- one for every person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School."
March 24th: March for Our Lives: Hosted in Washington D.C.
April 20th: #NationalSchoolWalkout is asking that high school students walk out on this date in memory of the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. No time has been specified.
So, what does this mean for District 300? As a district, we will not take a side or promote one viewpoint over another. Historically, District 300 has embraced similar opportunities to help students engage in the political process. Several years ago, our students held walkouts when the district was laying off staff.
We will look to take advantage of this "teachable moment" and provide an alternative means for students to engage in the political process and have a voice while remaining respectful of the views and opinions of others.
Our high school administrators are meeting with student leadership groups to help define what activities they may want to organize. We believe that a structured opportunity is needed to help students lend their voice to their beliefs and to help eliminate possible conflicts that may arise due to differing opinions. As such, we are reviewing options for students to:
-- Write letters to their local, state and national leaders regarding their position -- we will provide materials and cover postage so students can submit their letters. We will not preview, proofread them or grade them. Students can seal their letters and we will bulk mail them. So, it is imperative that you speak with your students about this. District 300 bears no responsibility regarding the contents of these messages.
-- Submit questions they would ask their legislators -- We will have students submit their questions. We would then work to categorize and sort questions for priority (based on the number of times a question was submitted). We will then share these with our local legislators, law enforcement, and district leadership and work to host an open forum where we can address these questions through a panel discussion where we each can share our responses.
-- Write letters of support for recent victims
-- Sign a banner for Parkland students to show their support
-- Register to vote
We will not provide students with prepared statements or encourage a position. However, we will provide you with enough notice so that you can engage your child in this discussion at home. It is important that you hear their beliefs and discuss how they can translate their feelings and emotions into a message.
Please know that this does not mean that activities will not include a "walkout" in one form or another. However, if a "walkout" type event does take place (e.g. moment of silence), it must happen within the building and with the prior consent of the school administration. Due to safety and supervision concerns we are discouraging any walkouts and will not support an activity that takes our students outside of the building. Doing so on a known date and time violates our safety polices and common sense. Again, our emphasis is to promote alternative means for students to express their feelings and beliefs related to this issue. Please know that any student who leaves the building will face disciplinary consequence.
I strongly believe there is an opportunity here for our students to be active participants in the legislative process and to embrace the reality that they are the next generation of change agents.