Some Seattle-area school schools are planning events alongside the 17-minute walkouts planned at schools across the nation.
Thousands of students in the Seattle area and across the country plan to walk out of their schools at 10 a.m. Wednesday to memorialize the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting and call for stricter gun laws.
But not all students, parents and teachers feel comfortable with that plan. The walkout involves questions about gun rights, an increasingly divisive topic that elicits strong emotions. School and district leaders across the region say they want to support students’ ability to exercise their First Amendment rights, but state law prohibits students and teachers from leaving their classes for a walkout. Many schools have said students who ignore the law won’t face further repercussions.
So at 10 a.m. Wednesday, some schools are planning their own events alongside — or as an alternative to — the 17-minute walkouts. School leaders say their communities will unite in support of the Parkland victims and the right for every student to feel safe at school.
“Individual people are going to be there for different aspects of it, but everyone is unified in being anti-school-shooting,” said Keven Wynkoop, principal of Seattle’s Ballard High School.
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At Ballard, students are planning a 17-minute walkout at a street corner outside the building, and the school created its sanctioned event for students and staff members. At the school-sanctioned event, students and teachers will go to the athletic field and walk around the track in silence. Students who don’t want to participate will have the option of sitting on the outside bleachers or staying in the commons area.
After the Parkland shooting, many teachers said they shared the sentiment of the walkout, but they recognized that they couldn’t just leave students behind in classrooms, Wynkoop said. They also couldn’t endorse a potentially unsafe situation if all the students were to walk together to a busy street corner.
Students who miss classes may be marked absent, but Ballard administration won’t pursue it further. At other schools, the students could receive an unexcused absence.
The Seattle School Board has encouraged students to remain in their classrooms, while other districts have asked schools to accommodate students’ plans. The Bellevue School Board passed a resolution calling on schools to provide safe spaces on campus for students to assemble, without academic penalty. At Lake Washington High School, administrators extended the third period so students won’t miss more than half of their classes.
Most importantly, Wynkoop said, teachers aren’t shying away from issues and questions surrounding gun control.
“Certainly in a high school there are a lot of conversations around the topic,” he said. “We always tell teachers it’s great for them to talk about controversial issues, but they should do what they can to provide all sides, and let students reach their own conclusion.”
Younger students may have questions and thoughts about school safety, said Neil Gerrans, principal at Seattle’s Salmon Bay K-8, but deeper talks about guns and violence might not be appropriate. Salmon Bay students and teachers plan to have a collective walkout, where they will march around the campus for 17 minutes. After that, kindergarten through second-grade students will go to recess and the older kids may stay outside to share speeches.
Staff members want to use the day as a teachable moment, focusing on community and the need to not live in fear. For the younger kids, teachers won’t use words like “Parkland,” “shooting” or “victim,” Gerrans said, but instead focus on what groups can accomplish when they stand together. Meanwhile, older students will get the chance to demonstrate and feel like they’re heard.
“We would rather take action than live in fear,” he said. “Tomorrow is a day we take action.”