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Dover high school students have mixed reaction to national walkouts

Union Leader Correspondent

March 07. 2018 12:03AM
School officials in Dover are putting together a comprehensive safety plan for high school students planning to walk out in peaceful protest March 14. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Correspondent)

DOVER — Students leaving Dover High School Tuesday afternoon had mixed reactions about next week’s planned walkout and the current debate on gun violence.

Across the nation, more than 2,000 walkouts are planned with the aim of calling attention to school safety and asking lawmakers to pass legislation that could prevent mass shootings. Students will walk out of their classes Wednesday, March 14, at 10 a.m. to honor the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.

Dover’s school leaders are working on a plan to ensure that students who participate are safe. They hope to release full details to parents by Friday.

Dover High juniors Parker Colby, 17, and Ryan Long, 16, do not plan to walk out.

“It’s just a distraction from school,” Colby said.

“A lot of kids would use it just to get out of class,” Long said.

Sophomore Michael Parks, 15, said he hasn’t heard much about the walkout, but students are talking amongst themselves about gun laws and school safety.

“I think that there should be teachers that are secretly armed,” Parks said.

Superintendent William Harbron said school officials had reviewed legal documents and decided to allow the high school students to peacefully protest. He said they will use the event as a learning opportunity for students as they study civil rights.

For families who want to peacefully protest with their children who are in kindergarten through eighth grade, Harbron said parents are allowed to sign students out of school.

“We need to allow these families to exercise their rights,” Harbron said.

In neighboring Durham, Superintendent James Morse and school officials are politely discouraging parents from signing their K-8 students out of class but said there are plans in place to fully support high school students who want to assemble in front of Oyster River High School March 14.

“Just because they’re high school kids that doesn’t mean they don’t have a First Amendment right,” Morse said. “If we tried to artificially contain this, we’d end up with discipline issues. By supporting the organization, we keep it a safe event.”

Morse added that school staff members also support students who don’t plan to walk out or are indifferent to the cause.

“This is about the First Amendment and being able to say how you feel,” Morse said.

School officials in Dover and Durham have been in contact with their local police departments to make sure there is a police presence during the walkouts.

Last week, Portsmouth’s Superintendent Stephen Zadravec said the school district was working to minimize disruption to classes, and to keep students who participate in the national walkout safe.

Occupy New Hampshire Seacoast is organizing three “March for our Lives!” events in Portsmouth to protest gun violence.

On March 14, the group is asking people to step outside for 17 minutes to honor the lives lost in Florida. On March 24, according to the organization’s Facebook page, at least 100 people plan to attend a rally to demand an end to “this epidemic of mass school shootings.” A similar event is planned for April 20 in Portsmouth.

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