Western Montana school districts prepare for planned student wal - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana


Western Montana school districts prepare for planned student walkout

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It's been nearly a month since Nikolas Cruz stormed into a Florida high school with an AR-15-style rifle and killed 17 students and faculty members.

Survivors and their allies have turned their grief into activism and advocacy following the shooting, and part of those efforts include a nationwide school walkout planned for Wednesday.

Students and teachers across the United States -- including here in Montana -- will walk out of school to remember the victims and to push lawmakers to pass stricter gun control laws, according to EMPOWER, the group organizing the action.

School districts are reacting to the planned walkout in different ways.

Missoula County Public Schools says they are aware of the planned event and have provided information to parents and students with a "factual information to guide their decisions around participation in these events."

Information posted on the MCPS website states that the District "is not sanctioning any events surrounding these planned walkouts," but add that "it may be possible that students discuss the walkouts in the normal course of classroom conversation on current events or in connection with other elements of district curriculum." 

While the school district cannot sanction the event because of the political implications, Thane says the voice of the student population is important.

"I do think student voice is important and I think recognizing the power of that student voice is important. So I do hope the students remain engaged in civil discourse, regardless of the issues, recognize the power they have,"  Thane said. 

"They"ll register to vote when they're eligible and that they will participate in the process. I think there are some significant teachable moments here. I think there are some great lessons and I hope that we take advantage of that tomorrow."

The following information comes from Missoula County Public Schools:

High school students who choose to leave campus on their own must be excused by parents in order to participate.Students who are not excused by parents will be marked absent and the school will follow normal procedures for unexcused absences - this may include detention.

Elementary and Middle school students must be signed out by a parent or an approved guardian. These students will not be allowed to leave campus without consent and the presence of a parent or approved guardian. In instances where elementary and middle school students leave campus without a parent or approved guardian, we will immediately call the parents to report the student’s absence and attempt to locate the student. This is in accordance with our current attendance and safety protocols for young students.

Students who miss class due to an excused absence will be afforded the opportunity to make up work in accordance with our absence procedures.

In the event of a walkout, school administrators and/or members of the Missoula Police Department may be present to observe that students are safe and are not violating school policy or the law. School personnel and school resource officers will not be there to endorse either side of the issue - their only role will be to ensure safety during these student-led walkouts.

We are asking students who choose to participate to conduct themselves with respect, responsibility, and to adhere to school policies and the law. Thank you for your help in sharing these expectations with your student(s).

The Kalispell School District is also taking steps to prepare for a student walkout. Kalispell Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau addressed the issue in a letter set out to students and families.

Dear Families,

I want to provide some information on how Kalispell Public Schools will be dealing with the upcoming national student walkouts planned for March 14 in conjunction with the most recent school shooting tragedy in Florida. 

At this time Flathead High School and Glacier High School administration have been meeting with student leaders in planning an appropriate event for March 14 which will provide a memorial for those students and staff who lost their lives and continued focus on school safety.  I want to make clear this is not a political statement and issues of gun control and other hotly contested national topics are not the focus.  This is an opportunity for student voice to be recognized in collaboration and cooperation with school administration. 

The events at each high school will be different because each student body has initiated and led the activities that will take place.   The focus and purpose for the activities planned at each school will be to commemorate the 17 lives lost and advocate for safe schools as we continue to support all students who attend Kalispell Public Schools.

The event will be short and students who choose to participate are expected to return to class when over.  Please know these activities will be optional, not required.

All other schools in the district will be business as usual with each principal monitoring their school and student body.

If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact the principal of your child’s school.  As I said in an earlier email, it is the responsibility of each of us; staff, students, parents, and community members, to keep our schools safe and supportive for all students.  

Thank you for your continued support of our students and schools.

Mark Flatau, Superintendent

The Hamilton School District is also responding to the plans for a walkout. Hamilton High School principal Dan Kimzey says in a Facebook post that, "we have consulted with our school district's attorney to ensure that we're handling this situation legally and ensuring that students' Constitutional rights are being upheld."

In a letter to parents, Kimzey further states the following:

We have observed these legal guidelines and intend to carefully monitor the situation for safety as well as to ensure that all students are treated fairly and legally, regardless of which side of this particular issue they support. Students who choose to walkout of class on March 14th or at any other time, are subject to the consequences in the student code of conduct. An absence of this type is considered a truancy and our handbooks prescribes the following actions for truancy:

Truancy Detention ISS ISS
Board discipline hearing

Note: seniors who have a truancy or avoidable absence in any class period will be required to take the final examination for that course. Students who choose to walk out of school should understand that their Constitutional right to protest during school hours will have consequences, and in this instance, those consequences are clearly established and will be enforced. Individuals whose conduct is disorderly or violates other student code of conduct in other areas will be disciplined accordingly.

Hamilton High School will operate as usual on Wednesday with teachers expected to continue to teach their lessons to students who remain in class. Kimzey also says in the statement that "school administration and law enforcement will take measures to ensure that all students are safe and that the orderly conduct of the school is not impeded." 

- information from CNN included in this report. Article compiled and written by Mark Thorsell

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