Student walkout planned for 10 a.m. today

Across Palm Beach County students are preparing to answer the national call to walk out of class Wednesday at 10 a.m. and have their voices heard on the one month anniversary of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

What those walkouts look like is expected to vary widely across the country with some superintendents and principals threatening to suspend or stop students who walk, while others are working with students in their budding activism.

This is what that activism is about and shaping up to look like in Palm Beach County’s public schools.

Where this started

The group behind the national walkout is EMPOWER, which organized the national Women’s March. According to the group, the #ENOUGH! National School Walkout seeks to honor the lives of the 17 people killed on Feb. 14 at the Parkland High School and to protest elected officials’ inaction on gun violence.

The group is calling for a 17-minute walkout to honor the 17 who died. What students and schools do with that time is up to them, but it offered a tool kit for organizers.

Among the talking points: Have conversations with school administrators about your plans. A walkout doesn’t have to be outside or off campus. And, “For safety reasons we request adults NOT join school walkouts on school campuses unless they work there or are invited by school staff.”

Planning walkouts, but not walkoffs

Students at some of the county’s more than two dozen high schools report they are planning to leave the classroom, but not the campus. Should anyone decide to step off property, district administrators have directed principals not to follow, spokeswoman Amity Schuyler said.

The district also contacted elected and appointed government leaders in the community asking them to discourage walkouts.

“We’ve stressed to students and parents we cannot secure the campus and keep students who walk off safe. The priority has to be the safety of the campus and the students on it,” Schuyler said.

Speeches, voter registration, letter writing

The district is calling this A Day of Action.

Palm Beach Central High students have invited speakers including politicians and even a Parkland student to their event. At Dwyer High in Jupiter, the new Students Against Gun Violence organization is growing its membership, a voter registration booth will be on hand, as will a booth for students who wish to get in on a letter writing campaign. Suncoast High students representing multiple clubs and organizations have coordinated a remembrance of each of the Stoneman Douglas victims in the school courtyard as well as an impassioned call to action.

Stepped up police presence

While district administrators say they anticipate the planned activities to go off peacefully and for students to remain on property, they have plans for additional police and staff on campuses,  Chief Academic Officer Keith Oswald said Tuesday. 

What will happen should students attempt to leave campus? “We’ll have to handle that when it comes up,” Oswald said. 

 Oswald said administrators at each school worked closely with students to discuss how to achieve their goals. 

“What does change mean to them? What do they want to see happening and is walking off campus the best avenue?” Oswald said. “We’re taking a very reflective approach that helps our students grow and understand that there are other ways to express themselves.”  

 That said, leaving school to protest is not an approved school function, Oswald said. And doing so will come with the consequences typically imposed at each school for being absent without that approval. 

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