O'Fallon Progress

OTHS will take disciplinary action against students who walk out of class in protest

Darcy Benway
Darcy Benway

Conversations regarding school violence and school safety continue to occur in our district, in our communities, and across the country. The tragedy in Parkland, Florida, has motivated both adults and students from coast to coast to become more engaged in civic efforts regarding school safety. Social media posts have recently encouraged students to participate in protests, marches, and possible walkouts from school.

Please note that all of us at OTHS support our students, desire safety in schools, and mourn with the rest of the nation for the lives lost in the horrific events that occurred in Parkland, Florida.

The OTHS administration, safety team, and local authorities are communicating almost daily on the issues of safety in our schools. Providing a safe and enriching learning environment is the utmost priority for school leaders.

With that said, it is in the spirit of safety that the administration cannot condone students walking out of our buildings in protest. This action creates a disruptive and unsafe situation. These protests have been publicly promoted by various organizations. Therefore, it is known by any individual wishing to inflict harm that students will be gathered outside the safety of our school buildings on certain dates. Local law enforcement and school officials are concerned with the vulnerability to which our students will be exposed. OTHS school safety is at its best when students are inside the secured perimeter of OTHS and in their classrooms. Student safety will be diminished if students leave OTHS buildings and walkout in protest. We encourage students and families to keep safety in mind when considering their participation in these planned events.

We also support a student’s Constitutional right to protest and to engage in peaceful assembly. We will not infringe on that right. However, a school walkout/protest is an act of civil disobedience and, by definition, a violation of rules. Accordingly, at OTHS, disciplinary consequences will be administered for students who skip class(es) and walkout of the building. Instruction in our classrooms will continue as planned. If students decide to protest, we have asked them to do so peacefully, as additional discipline may be administered for disruptive behaviors in hallways or classrooms that infringe on the rights of other students who are not participating in the walkout. Disruptive behaviors not only impact class instruction in the building, but also distract from the intended message of the walkout/protest.

OTHS understands and respects that some may feel these walkout/protests are an educational activity that should be free from discipline. Although they may be considered an educational experience, the full lesson in civil disobedience is compromised if students do not receive a consequence for skipping class and/or engaging in disruptive behaviors. As we prepare students for “life after OTHS,” it is an important lesson to learn that consequences may result when participating in protests, regardless of the merit behind the cause. If OTHS teachers or administrators chose to walkout on their jobs in protest for a cause, certainly the Board of Education would impose consequences for that action. Events such as these provide excellent opportunities for us to prepare students for their future decision-making, even if the lessons being provided are not popular.

The national walkout on March 14 is scheduled for only 17 minutes and would be perceived by some to cause minimal disruption in our buildings. At this time, the walkout planned for April 20 has no defined parameters. School leaders must prepare for a range of student behaviors that may result from these walkouts, and apply Board discipline policy consistently and fairly. It is important to distinguish that students are not being disciplined for protesting or the cause behind the protest, but rather for skipping class(es) and/or causing a disruption to the school environment. Protests could be scheduled in such a manner that students would not need to skip classes, thus, not resulting in any disciplinary consequences.

Student voices matter, and it is not our intention to disrupt messages regarding school safety that students wish to convey. We encourage students to consider writing letters to their elected state senators and representatives, expressing their views. The Illinois General Assembly (House and Senate) enacts legislation. If students are seeking changes in legislation, communicating directly with members of the General Assembly may provide greater attention to their voices.

At OTHS, we are proud of our student body and the manner in which they conduct themselves on a daily basis, and more importantly, during difficult situations. OTHS is thankful to have supportive parents and guardians who partner with us as we assist students in their journey to adulthood. We are also appreciative to be part of a community that works together to keep our schools and students safe, with special appreciation for the O’Fallon Police Department who has worked closely with the school district in our efforts on school safety.