Highland News Leader

Highland students will walk out as part of national protest about school violence

Students leaving Highland High School at the end of the day.
Students leaving Highland High School at the end of the day. mbraa@bnd.com

Highland High School students will have a chance to participate in a nationwide walkout scheduled for next week to protest school violence.

"It’s important to give students a voice, to listen to their concerns," Highland High School Principal Dr. Karen Gauen wrote in a letter to parents on March 6 informing them of how the district plans to handle the event. "This letter was created from the words and hearts of HHS students. An important part of school is helping students learn to advocate for themselves, stand up for what they believe — and approach their concerns through dialogue and reason."

The letter said that Gauen met last week with her Principal’s Advisory Committee, a group made of senior leaders who communicate the student's needs to the administration.

"The recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, combined with other tragic shootings from Sandy Hook to Columbine, was on their minds," Gauen said in the letter.

On Feb. 14, a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida left 17 people dead, and another 15 wounded. The tragedy spurred a national conversation on school safety, violence and gun control. From that conversation, the National School Walkout was born.

High school students across Florida staged walkouts and protests to show solidarity and demand tougher state and federal gun laws. The protests were in response to the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida th

A nationwide walkout is scheduled for March 14 at 10 a.m. At that time, students will walk out of their schools for 17 minutes, to represent the 17 lives taken in the Parkland shooting.

During the committee meeting, Gauen said the students informed her that they planned to participate in the walkout.

As the discussion continued, the district held a faculty meeting to make plans for the day. Superintendent Mike Sutton said it was determined that students at Highland High School will be able to participate with written permission from a parent.

"We are trying to respect the right they have to express their opinions," Sutton said.

With permission, he said participation in the walkout will be counted as an excused absence. A student's excused absences count toward whether or not they have to take final exams. Gauen said if a student has an A grade in both quarters of a class, the student may have up to five excused absences. If a student has a B, C, or D, the student may only have three excused absences to be exempt from taking the final.

Any students who leave the building without a note will be counted as unexcused, according to Sutton. The letter said an unexcused absence could result in detentions and, for upperclassmen, could automatically trigger a third period final exam.

About 30 minutes before the walkout, students will have a choice to go to study hall or to commons area to participate in a dialogue about school safety with members of the Highland Police Department.

Beginning at 9:55 a.m., if students have written permission, they may leave study hall or the commons area. At this time, the student will hand in their written permission slip to the office, and gather in for "peaceful assembly" at the school's tennis courts. District administration will be outside to supervise the students, according to Sutton.

"We ask that this be a quiet, reflective time out of respect for the 17 lives that were lost," Gauen's letter said.

The district has asked that the walkout not to be a political event, with no signs or posters.

At 10:17 a.m. students will return to school.

"It is during the school day, so the normal educational day will go on," Sutton said.

They will have to enter through the office floor and sign in.

At Highland Middle School, Sutton said students will participate in school safety conversations at 10 a.m. But, if HMS students do desire to participate in the walk out, their parents will have to come to the school and sign them out.

Sutton said their are no events planned for K-5 grade levels.