Canton, NNCS, Brasher Falls schools plan Wednesday walkout to honor students killed in Florida shooting
By MATT LINDSEY
Students at Canton, Norwood-Norfolk and Brasher Falls school districts plan honor those killed in the massacre at the Parkland high school earlier this year through walkouts March 14.
“Superintendents discussed the nation-wide movement for student walk-outs during the regular superintendents meeting at our Canton building last week,” said Rebekah Grim, manager of communications and print services at St. Lawrence-Lewis BOCES.One major concern for BOCES and school district officials, Grim says, is safety. “We have serious trepidations about publicizing the date and time of a walk-out, and then allowing students to gather outside the secure building where they are vulnerable,” she said.
“We did receive a request from a small group of middle and high school students to have a walkout on March 14th,” said Norwood-Norfolk Central Superintendent Jamie Cruikshank. “We expressed our support for their freedom of speech, but also stated our concerns with having students outside the building at a designated time/date. We expressed our concern about their safety.”
Students at Brasher Falls are hosting a student sit in to advocate for school safety and remember the victims of the Stoneman Douglas school shooting. The sit in will take place in the auditorium from 10 a.m. until 10:17 a.m. for grades 7-12.
“At this time, we are not aware of any specific plans for students to participate in a walk-out or other form of protest at Potsdam Central,” Joann Chambers PCS superintendent said.
Chambers said the school respects its students' First Amendment rights and want to support their growing civic engagement. “However, we will not allow any activities to cause a substantial disruption to the learning environment,” she said.
Walkout at CCS
Canton Central School students plan to walkout to honor those killed in the massacre and to protest gun violence. For 17 minutes at 10 a.m. students, school faculty and supporters around the world will walk out of their schools, and those participating are encouraged to wear orange to show support for gun control.
A school walkout to protest gun violence will be staged by students at St. Lawrence University on March 14 in the Quad as well. Organizers are encouraging students, faculty and staff to participate.
The general consensus is that schools should preserve and protect students rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, while maintaining decorum and keeping everyone safe, Grim said.
Several nationwide walkouts are planned in March and April.
Grim said students who have approached school officials regarding their plans for walk-outs have been well-intentioned and respectful.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with any student or student group to discuss appropriate and creative ways to advocate for causes that are important to them while at school,” she said. “Students can contact school administrators at any time.”
“It’s important to know that conduct that disrupts school operations is not acceptable and will be handled in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct,” Grim added.
Grim said she was not aware of organized walk-outs in any other St. Lawrence County schools at this time, but superintendents and their boards have discussed the possibility and are prepared to respond according to their own Codes of Conduct.
The organizers considered school officials point of view and agreed that the walk out would be a classroom walkout.
Cruikshank said school workers asked why the group wanted to do this. Their reply was that they wanted to remember those 17 killed in Parkland, Cruikshank said. “That they wanted to show their support. They did not feel it was about gun control, but rather the need for safety in schools.”
So, NNCS has agreed to allow them to organize a classroom walkout for 17 minutes in the auditorium. An opening speech is planned on the purpose of the walkout. They plan to show the pictures of those killed in Parkland and ask for a moment of silence as they read the names.
“They also plan to have either a card or poster for the students to sign,” Cruikshank said. “We can mail this to the Parkland school district 17 minutes is not a lot of time - but I support these organizers.”
The students do not have to participate, but they may remain in class if that is their desire.
“I believe in the right of student voice; however, it must be done in a manner which is not disruptive or potentially dangerous,” he said.
Teachers will need to perform their duties and supervise their classrooms, the superintendent said. “If all the students leave their classrooms then they may help supervise the auditorium,” he said.
Teachers are on duty and will not have the option of leaving their classrooms unattended to participate, Cruikshank said. “They can advocate on their own time.”
Teachers and students have talked about school safety. “School, in general, is safe,” he said. “We have our vulnerabilities, but we do place a lot of effort into having safe environments.”
Sit In For Safety
“This is a student led initiative intended to keep students inside and safe while allowing for a voice of advocacy,” a prepared statement from Brasher Falls Central said. “We will have two banners located in the auditorium to be signed. The first is to show support for Stoneman Douglas High by signing your name or leaving a message. The second is a banner to express your opinion on how we can keep our school safe. Student council will be crafting a letter to be sent to our government representatives with your suggestions. If students are remaining in class but want to sign the banners, they will be moved to the cafeteria during lunches.”
The school is encouraging its students to support Stoneman Douglas High by wearing their school color of maroon on this day. There will also be a middle and high school-wide moment of silence to honor the victims at 10:10 a.m.
No Walk Out at PCS
PCS said it will take the following approach: If students are interested in participating in or organizing an event, they will be asked to work with their building principal to ensure safety for everyone.
Any event must be planned in such a way that it does not substantially disrupt the school day. If protest activities become significantly disruptive, we will act in accordance with the Student Code of Conduct.
Student participation in any protest will be voluntary.
Student safety is our top priority. Therefore, we encourage students to gather inside the secure building, rather than leaving the building.
“If students plan an event in collaboration with the administration, we may call on some staff members to provide supervision,” Chambers said.
Chambers said PCS teachers value the positive relationships they have with their students, and they demonstrate empathy and caring when students are upset and need to talk.
“Staff also regularly review safety protocols with students,” she said. “Thoughtful discussions of current events often occur in social studies and English classes.”
Asked it there are topics that are off limits for teachers and students, as it relates to school shootings, Chambers said, “we do not infringe on our teachers' first amendment rights.”