District 15: Too many resources needed to allow walkouts
Concern about the impact on public safety resources is among the reasons Palatine Township Elementary District 15 no longer will allow student-led walkouts, officials said.
Similar to other school systems, District 15 let students outside March 14 to participate in a nationwide walkout urging gun control measures in the wake of the killings at a Parkland, Florida, school. District 15 pupils were permitted to participate if they initiated conversations about the issue with their principals in advance, officials said.
But in reviewing the walkout at all four district junior highs and some elementary schools, school officials found the marches pulled police officers from their typical patrol duties so they could be stationed at each participating campus, District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson said. Officers were present for more than 30 minutes, beyond the 17-minute walkout.
Administrators and teachers also supervised the students much longer than the 17 minutes for the walkout, Thompson said. With so many resources required, officials decided they wouldn't allow student participation in Friday's National School Walkout marking the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.
"I am aware of several ... planned national student-led walkouts on issues including right to life, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, legalization of marijuana and remembering Columbine, even though our students weren't alive when that event occurred," he said. "I am sure there are other issues around which walkouts are planned."
Potential discipline for students who walk out without permission has not been specified. One-hour detentions were given to about 1,100 students at two Downers Grove high schools who bucked the administration and walked out last month.
District 15 school board President Lisa Szczupaj said Thursday it was "quite difficult" to plan adequate supervision and staffing for children who were part of last month's walkout and those who remained in the classroom.
"What occurred at Parkland is an absolute tragedy," Szczupaj said. "Our kids need to find a way to honor the victims and motivate change which does not negatively impact instruction time or stretch the staff at each school in a way that they are not able to meet the needs of all students under their care each day."
Thompson said he's received at least seven emails from parents "expressing their feelings regarding the issue of student speech" since an announcement of the district's walkout position was sent Monday night. He said most parents wound up agreeing that the prohibition is reasonable, provided District 15 offers other ways for free expression by students.
District 15 currently allows student-led groups to meet before and after school, or at lunch if there is an adult sponsor for the group. Students meet at schools for religious reasons, support of certain lifestyles and other social causes, Thompson said.