Exercising the right

School board discusses plans, implications of national student walk-out

WCSD Superintendent Amy Stewart addresses the district’s planning efforts and response to a nationally-organized student walkout set for 10 a.m. this morning.

One month after a former student killed 17 students at a Parkland, Florida high school, students nationally are planning a walk-out for Wednesday morning.

And that includes students in the Warren County School District.

The event is being promoted by Empower, the youth faction of the Women’s March, and is calling for students, faculty and staff to walk out of their schools and universities for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m.

What happens in that time period is up to each school.

The goal of the event is to give students a voice, rather than relying on adults to speak for them, Empower’s website states. The movement seeks to end gun violence in all its forms, and is utilizing the one-month anniversary of the Parkland school shooting to raise awareness.

Do students have the right to walk out?

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, students cannot be disciplined more harshly or differently for participating in a peaceful protest than they would for any other unexcused absence.

Students in the Warren County School District will have the opportunity to participate in the walkout without fear of disciplinary reprisal. But they will have to do so safely.

“Going into locations that are not safe will not be permitted,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said.

WCSD Board President Donna Zariczny said that the school district has been having internal discussions regarding the event.

“Different buildings have different interests,” she said. noting there isn’t a “consistent theme” across the district regarding participation.

Zariczny said that building administration throughout the district are preparing safety plans in the event that students choose to participate in the walkout.

While she declined to identify those plans for safety reasons, “(We) don’t want all of our students in one area and (to) be the object of somebody’s attention. (We are) putting plans in place so students will be safe.”

Superintendent Amy Stewart said that Solicitor Chris Byham was asked to offer his thoughts in that planning and “gave us some good guidance.”

Stewart noted that this is an “event combining sentiment toward Parkland and a political avenue, too.”

“The whole walk-out concept is concerning to us,” Stewart said. “It doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do given the climate we are in. Some schools are more interested in this than others. We will be prepared and will make sure the kids are safe.”

Board member Joe Colosimo asked if the district is opening “Pandora’s box by allowing students to walk out for this reason,” raising concern regarding how often this will happen when something else that prompts a similar response occurs. “That’s a big concern of mine.”

Stewart reiterated that the principals in each schools are working with the student bodies on “activities they want to do.” She said those include lessons in political activism as well as more of an anti-bullying approach, such as talking to 17 students that a student wouldn’t normally talk to.

“This is a national event,” Board member Marcy Morgan said. “I don’t see this happening on a regular basis. This was a unique situation. I would support their participation.”

Byham said if events like this become more routine that administration could adopt a more rigid policy.