Of­fi­cials: Hamil­ton County stu­dents in planned walk­out won’t be pun­ished

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY MEGHAN MANGRUM STAFF WRITER

Though they are not of­fi­cially en­dors­ing stu­dent walk­outs planned for March in re­sponse to the deadly Florida school shoot­ing, Hamil­ton County Schools of­fi­cials also will not pun­ish stu­dents for tak­ing part.

“Stu­dents that de­sire to par­tic­i­pate in this walk­out re­spect­fully and re­spon­si­bly will be al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate,” dis­trict of­fi­cials an­nounced.

Stu­dents across the coun­try are or­ga­niz­ing a Na­tional Stu­dent Walk­out on March 14, one month af­ter the Park­land, Fla., shoot­ing. Stu­dents plan to walk out of their class­rooms at 10 a.m. for 17 min­utes, a minute for each life lost in the shoot­ing.

Lo­cally, a group of stu­dents called Chattanooga Stu­dents Lead­ing Change plans to hold a March for Our Lives event on Satur­day, March 24.

“As a dis­trict, we are not en­dors­ing a walk­out; how­ever, we un­der­stand the sig­nif­i­cance of re­cent events and our stu­dents’ de­sire to have their voices heard and we will work with them to make this a safe and valuable learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Bryan John­son, su­per­in­ten­dent of Hamil­ton County Schools, in a state­ment.

Pre­vi­ously, in an in­ter­view with the Times Free Press, John­son said the dis­trict had to be mind­ful of stu­dent safety as well as the “very real is­sue” that is be­ing raised by many around the coun­try.

“We want to be mind­ful of both. We want to honor the very real is­sue that’s at hand, but we also un­der­stand that we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to keep stu­dents safe,” John­son said. “There’s time for a call to ac­tion, there’s time where some­thing has to hap­pen. … I mean schools, have to be mind­ful of their se­cu­rity

“Stu­dents that de­sire to par­tic­i­pate in this walk­out re­spect­fully and re­spon­si­bly will be al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate.” — HAMIL­TON COUNTY SCHOOLS

mea­sures. I think there’s a call for so­cio-emo­tional sup­port for stu­dents. … I think ev­ery­one re­ally has to think about what it is we can do, and how we pro­tect our chil­dren.”

Dis­trict of­fi­cials re­leased a set of guide­lines to Hamil­ton County prin­ci­pals Tues­day, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of stu­dent par­tic­i­pa­tion in the na­tional walk­out.

The guide­lines re­leased in­clude:

› Con­sider work­ing with your stu­dent lead­er­ship groups to or­ga­nize and plan for stu­dents who de­sire to take part in the walk­out.

› Make sure your fac­ulty is in­formed and that you are pre­pared with ad­e­quate staff to over­see the time.

› En­cour­age stu­dents to hold the walk-out in­doors. Pos­si­bly the gym, cafe­te­ria, au­di­to­rium, etc.

› Have stu­dent lead­ers plan an ac­tiv­ity to re­mem­ber stu­dents lost in the most re­cent in­ci­dent in Florida.

› En­sure plans are in place for stu­dents who do not wish to take part in the walk­out.

› Com­mu­ni­cate with stu­dents and fac­ulty af­ter plans are in place.

“Every school is unique, and this is not an ex­haus­tive list for school con­sid­er­a­tion,” dis­trict of­fi­cials said. “If schools need spe­cific as­sis­tance in plan­ning, cen­tral di­rec­tors are as­sist­ing. The most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion for schools is to en­sure that stu­dents are safe dur­ing these events.”

Many in the com­mu­nity have been call­ing on schools to in­crease se­cu­rity mea­sures to en­sure the safety of their stu­dents re­cently, but many have also called for sup­port of the young peo­ple try­ing to en­act change.

Sur­vivors of the Park­land shoot­ing have launched the na­tional move­ment by march­ing on Florida’s Capi­tol and call­ing for leg­is­la­tors to sup­port gun re­form.

Chattanooga’s Stu­dents Lead­ing Change group held its first meet­ing Sun­day in prepa­ra­tion for the March events. The group will meet again from 3-5 p.m. this Sun­day at the Chattanooga Workspace.

Lo­cal ad­vo­cacy groups Chattanooga Moms for So­cial Jus­tice and Uni­fiEd held a roundtable dis­cus­sion Mon­day night at Pilgrim Con­gre­ga­tional Church to dis­cuss gun vi­o­lence and ac­tion steps — the main take­away be­ing the groups’ sup­port and de­sire to help stu­dents fol­low through with their plans for the walk­outs and marches.

John­son spoke can­didly with the Times Free Press about the threat of vi­o­lence to­day in schools and to chil­dren.

“The two places [that] you think have the most safe haven have just be­come two of the most trou­bled places — school and church. I mean, that’s where peo­ple are get­ting killed now, and it ab­so­lutely blows my mind,” he said. “There’s got to be a call to ac­tion. Seven­teen lives on top of all the other things that have hap­pened. … As a fa­ther, just to think about the safety of your chil­dren when you’re send­ing them to school … so I think that’s where we’ve got to start.”

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