One month after the Feb. 14 mass shooting that left 17 staff and students dead at a high school in Parkland, Florida, students across the country are planning a youth-led school walkout to protest gun violence and demand action from lawmakers. (March 13)
Students across the United States are planning to walk out of school Wednesday morning in a protest aimed at convincing legislators to reform gun laws.
But Sioux Falls schools have another plan.
While others participate in the National School Walkout, schools in Sioux Falls are hosting alternate events in an effort to remove politics from the student safety discussion. Instead of Second Amendment debates, students will have high-level conversations about school unity and how to look out for one another.
These alternate events range from optional school assemblies to demonstrations in which students stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the hallway as a sign of unity. The common theme: no politics.
“You won’t see anything here regarding gun safety, gun control, pros and cons,” Superintendent Brian Maher said. “That’s not what this is going to be about.”
Students who do choose to participate in the national walkout will face the same penalty as they would if they skipped class any other day. If it’s the first time they’ve skipped, they’ll get detention, Maher said.
“(These alternate events are) not part of any national movement,” Maher said. “It doesn’t matter to me what somebody’s political views are. For us, it’s just March 14 at 10 a.m.”
Walk ‘Up’ instead of ‘Out’
Conversations on student walkouts started shortly after a Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Wednesday’s protests will mark the one-month anniversary of the shooting which left 17 dead.
The goal of the national walkout — which is organized by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER group — is to urge lawmakers to consider gun reform in an effort to prevent future mass shootings.
In Sioux Falls, though, events have a different spin.
Edison Middle School students, for example, opted for a “Walk Up” event rather than a walkout. They’ll host an optional assembly where kids will remember the Florida victims with 17 seconds of silence. Then they’ll talk about ways they can help their classmates feel welcome by “walking up” to sit with someone who’s alone at lunch or “walking up” to help someone carry their books.
“We try to put a positive spin on it, if you will, to allow kids to have a voice, for it to be a positive voice, and to bring about long-lasting change within our building,” said Principal Shane Hieronimus.
Other middle schools have similar non-political events planned. The Sioux Falls School District did not have a complete list of schools hosting an event Wednesday.
‘We want to be recognized’
Events are also planned at the high schools. Students at Washington High School will stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the hall and hear a message of unity over the intercom.
At Roosevelt High School, students will walk out of the building to sign a poster reading “Never Again” before coming back in to remember Florida victims in an assembly. The event itself takes no stance on gun reform, but student organizers recognize the politics behind the event.
“We just want to sort of put the legislators on notice,” said student Shaiv Kittur, 18. “We want them to know we want change … we want to be recognized.”
Student Keegan Baatz, 18, said the conversations following the Florida shooting “sparked something” for Roosevelt students, and he’s seeing students becoming more politically engaged because of it.
Baatz and Kittur recognize that school-sanctioned events can’t take a political stance, but they reject the argument that students shouldn’t be demonstrating during the school day.
“The stuff that we’re talking about has been impacting schools, so I really don’t know what better place to protest this would be,” Kittur said.
Support from parents
Parents have shown mixed responses to both the national protest and the local events on social media, but many in Sioux Falls are supportive of their children whether they decide to protest or participate in non-political school events or neither.
Mike Wiederrich has two kids who attend Washington High School. He doesn’t know their plan for Wednesday morning, but he said it’s their decision if they want to walk out, stand shoulder-to-shoulder or stay in class.
“Whatever they choose to do, I’m 100 percent behind them,” he said.
Nicole Osmundson has children at both Lincoln and Edison, and she said Edison, in particular, has done a good job of planning a student-led event that’s still age-appropriate.
“Within a controlled environment, they were given the leeway to decide how they would honor (victims) and make a statement,” Osmundson said, adding that she supports the walk “up.”
District administrators stressed that Wednesday events have been wholly student-led with guidance from school officials.
At Roosevelt, students planned their brief walkout and assembly largely on their own, and Principal Tim Hazlett said even though the event isn’t political, it makes sense to do it at the same time as the national protest.
“If you don’t do it on that day, you run the risk of students walking out on that day anyway,” Hazlett said. “And you have more days that are disrupted.”
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