Education

Here’s how local school districts are preparing for the upcoming nationwide student walkouts

Baltimore students stage 'lie-in' for gun control

Baltimore students staged a “lie-in” in front of city hall on Tuesday, March 6, lying on the plaza for 17 minutes – one minute for each of the people shot and killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month. Hundreds of students walked out o
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Baltimore students staged a “lie-in” in front of city hall on Tuesday, March 6, lying on the plaza for 17 minutes – one minute for each of the people shot and killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month. Hundreds of students walked out o

In recognition of the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and faculty members dead, walkouts are planned at schools across the country to honor the victims and call for action against gun violence.

Slated for 10 a.m. Wednesday, the nationwide walkout, organized by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March, is set to last 17 minutes, a minute for each of the victims.

Groups of students and teachers from schools across the country have already tweeted their commitment to participating in the protest.

As for Centre County, school districts have issued statements on how they plan to respond to the planned walkouts.

Citing safety concerns, Bellefonte Area School District issued a letter to parents on behalf of Superintendent Michelle Saylor and high school principal Michael Fedisson on Wednesday, announcing an alternative activity for students wishing to participate in the national call for action.

“While we appreciate the calling of this movement, having students walk out of school does present supervision and safety concerns. Therefore, BAHS will provide a safe location within the school on March 14 for students that wish to assemble and communicate their ideas,” the letter said.

According to the letter, students who choose to assemble Wednesday will have the opportunity to text, email and call their local legislators at that time, and to honor the lives of those killed last month with the “What’s your 17?” campaign. “What’s your 17?,” the letter said, is an initiative that encourages students to make 17 new friends, say a kind word to 17 people, perform 17 acts of kindness and find 17 ways to help others.

The letter also reiterated the school policy that students who do choose to exit the building will be held accountable to the school’s disciplinary code of conduct, which could result in detention or suspension. There will also be a designated area outside for those who do choose to walk out, with additional security on hand.

“Events such as the one in Parkland affect all of us who come to our school each day,” the letter said. “We understand the need for change and the need to keep everyone safe.”

Like Bellefonte, the Penns Valley Area School District also plans to provide a designated location within the school for students who wish to gather and text, email or call their local legislators. Students who choose to gather outside of the designated area will be subject to the school’s disciplinary code of conduct, according to a release.

At Philipsburg-Osceola, the administration is also encouraging an alternative way for students to make their voices heard and honor the Parkland victims.

In a letter posted to the district’s website on Thursday by Superintendent Gregg Paladina, high school principal Justin Hazelton and middle school principal Susan Harris, P-O announced its intention to cease instruction from 10-10:17 a.m. and give students the opportunity to participate in “non-political class discussions ranging from safety, respect and bullying to acts of kindness and how to have a positive impact on society.”

For those students who feel the guided conversations are not enough to meet their needs, the high school auditorium will be designated as a “safe space” for students to go to exercise their First Amendment rights with a “walk-in.” High school and middle school students are discouraged from leaving the building, and will be suspended in accordance with the school’s code of conduct if they do so, according to the letter.

“In light of recent events, we understand the need for communication. We can assure you that we remain diligent where student safety is concerned,” the letter said. “A number of safety initiatives are in place at the Philipsburg-Osceola School District, and we continue to strive to improve.”

Students in the State College Area School District, through conversations with the high school principals, organized a memorial for the students and staff at Marjory Stoneman High School that will occur during a 25-minute flex period, starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

“As principal of State High, I support our students’ desires to engage in an important matter within our community and country,” principal Curtis Johnson said in an email to high school parents. “What we’ve developed together for this Wednesday also embraces respectful student voice, a strategy within our district’s strategic plan. I am proud of our students for proposing and developing this meaningful plan.”

Students who wish to participate in the memorial are invited to gather outside the school for a reading of each of the names and a brief biography of each student and faculty member killed in Parkland, Fla., followed by a moment of silence and a song preformed by school choir members.

Local police, teachers, security guards, principals and the school resource officer will be on hand to provide supervision, according to a release from the school district.

Students who elect to not take part in the memorial are invited to use that time to write cards to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students or letters to state officials, according to the release.

A separate memorial will also be held for Delta Program students at the Fairmount Avenue Building.

Bald Eagle Area Superintendent Jeff Miles confirmed that district does have a response set in place for the planned walkouts.

This story will be updated when more information becomes available.

Lauren Muthler: 814-231-4646, @lmuth1259

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