Why new gun control walkouts are drawing mixed responses from schools

 
 
Updated 4/18/2018 5:03 PM
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  • Students at roughly two dozen area schools plan to participate in the National Student Walkout on Friday to push for legislation to help stop gun violence.

      Students at roughly two dozen area schools plan to participate in the National Student Walkout on Friday to push for legislation to help stop gun violence. Paul Valade | Staff Photographer/March 2018

Students planning to join a second nationwide walkout Friday to protest gun violence may find school administrators drawing a tougher line than they did a month ago.

Officials in some area districts say they won't support Friday's walkout while others say students who leave class without parental permission will receive detentions.

Others say they're working with students to plan activities that don't involve walkouts. Still others say students haven't expressed interest in boycotting classes after participating in such a demonstration on March 14 -- a month after a gunman shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The National School Walkout, planned to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, is expected to involve students from 2,400 schools nationwide and is being coordinated through the Indivisible Project, a coalition of progressive groups.

Students at roughly 25 schools across the region are listed as participating, although administrators overseeing two of the high schools -- Wheaton North and Wheaton Warrenville South -- say they've heard of no such plans.

The planned demonstrations range from a 20-minute session for prayer, speeches or letter-writing at Benet Academy in Lisle to a five-hour event scheduled at Rotary Hill in Naperville, across from Naperville Central High School.

"We're trying to make it so that our schools don't have to become prisonlike with metal detectors upon entrance and everyday searches and personnel roaming the halls fully armed," the student organizers of a walkout planned at South Elgin High School wrote on Twitter, @SehsWalkout. "Why would we opt for that when we can simply just push for legislation that makes it harder for a dangerous individual to obtain a weapon?"

Some participating students, however, could face disciplinary action.

In Palatine Township Elementary District 15, Superintendent Scott Thompson sent an email to parents Monday saying walkouts "would be a disruption to learning and an unnecessary strain."

"Consequently," he said, "future walkouts will not be supported by the administration."

Glenbard High School District 87 is taking a neutral stance. Even with walkouts planned at Glenbard West and Glenbard South in Glen Ellyn, spokeswoman Peg Mannion said the district will adhere to its regular schedule and handle absences according to the student handbook.

Naperville Unit District 203 is taking a middle ground. Walkout absences will be considered excused if parents call in advance, Naperville Central High School Principal Bill Wiesbrook said in an email to parents. But students who leave class will not be permitted to gather on school grounds. And those whose parents don't call will be considered truant.

The walkout planned by Central students is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., with organizers asking participants to peacefully protest, write letters to legislators and conduct a voter-registration drive until 3:10 p.m. If they do -- and if they miss more than three class periods without parent permission -- Wiesbrook said they could be in line for a four-hour Saturday detention.

If students walk out in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 in Naperville and Aurora, Superintendent Karen Sullivan said she plans to follow the same policy. She said an estimated 5,000 students at seven middle schools and three high schools walked out March 14, but she hasn't heard any students planning to do so Friday.

"They took it seriously and did a good job," she said.

Unexcused absences will be in store for students in Elgin Area School District U-46 if they leave during instruction, spokeswoman Mary Fergus said. Elgin, Larkin and South Elgin high schools are listed as participating in the National Student Walkout.

"We are trying to make it so that these recent mass shootings and everyday gun violence happening all across America becomes a rarity," South Elgin organizers wrote on Twitter. "We're just trying to keep innocent people from dying."

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