NH schools set rules for March 14 walkouts honoring Parkland shooting victims
March 11. 2018 3:47AM
Students at Portsmouth High School plan to walk outside at 10 a.m. Wednesday for a ceremony honoring the victims of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Stephen Zadravec, superintendent of Portsmouth School District, said the administration supports what the students are doing. He met with students last week to hear their concerns, and he said no disciplinary action will be taken against those who choose to participate, provided they don’t leave campus.
The district plans to have police officers on hand to keep students safe, he said.
Zadravec said he’s heard that some middle school students also want to participate in Wednesday’s events. “In that case, we’re opening up spaces inside the school for students to gather,” he said.
Zadravec said he’s not surprised that Portsmouth students want to participate in what has become a national youth movement. “We have very involved students and we appreciate the fact that they do take initiative,” he said. “We definitely want to support them in what they’re doing.”
Bedford High School Principal Bill Hagen has told parents that many students intend to participate in the student-led walkout.
“Students have the right to assemble and express an opinion in school as long as it does not disrupt the educational process or create a safety concern,” he wrote in a letter to parents, stressing that the event is not being organized by the school.
Hagen told student organizers that those participating in the walkout should report to the school’s gymnasium, not an outside area, as this will provide a safer place for them to assemble.
“I have heard talk by a small number of students they may still walk outside of the school. I will be making it clear to all students that this action will be subject to school consequences,” said Hagen, explaining that if students comply with the guidelines, there will be no consequences.
Although the school will not prevent students from assembling outside, Hagen said, it cannot adequately supervise and keep students safe if they opt to rally outdoors, although fire and police officials will be present. If students assemble outside without a parental note excusing them from class, Hagen said, it will have the same consequence as skipping a class: detention and an unexcused absence.
Bolgen Vargas, Manchester’s superintendent of schools, sent a letter home to parents on Friday about Wednesday’s events.
At each high school, Vargas told parents, there will be a designated, supervised location to gather outside at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Those who do not wish to participate will stay inside, where “instruction will continue uninterrupted,” he wrote.
For younger students, schools will also have designated places outside. But youngsters will have to be accompanied by a parent or guardian, and be signed out of school for the duration of the walkout, the superintendent said.
Vargas also urged parents to talk to their children “about this movement at an age-appropriate level.”
Dr. Lorraine Tacconi-Moore is school superintendent for SAU 24, which includes schools in Henniker, Weare and Stoddard. She said John Stark Regional High School is the only school in her district planning an event, although exact plans are still in the works. “We’ve given it to our high school student leaders to organize an assembly to allow for student voice,” she said.
In Londonderry, administrators said the school district was approached by a group of students interested in holding a walkout to honor the memory of those killed in Parkland. “The students have assured Principal Jason Parent that there will be no disruption to the learning environment,” said Scott Laliberte, Londonderry’s superintendent of schools. “From our standpoint, no disciplinary consequences will be administered, and the school will continue to function as normal.”
Inter-Lakes School District
Mary Moriarty, superintendent of Inter-Lakes School District, said students there are working with the administration to plan an observance on Wednesday “to remember the victims of violence in our nation and to promote peace and safety.”
Students may choose whether to participate, and those who choose not to will continue with their regular class schedule.
After the observance, high school students may elect to participate in “stations” that are aligned to the district’s civics competencies, Moriarty said. Stations include registering to vote, writing to elected officials, how an organization might come to consensus on an issue, and school safety conversations with the school resource officer.
And during lunch, Moriarty said, student groups will have an option to share their responses to the question: “What’s your 17 for promoting peace and safety?”
Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston has posted a message to parents on social media about plans for Wednesday. Students there had approached the administration asking permission “to participate in a meaningful manner,” it said.
At 9 a.m., the school bell will be rung 17 times in honor of the Parkland victims, after which students can then gather in the cafeteria, where they will take part in a “17 Acts of Kindness” pledge and other activities.
“We as both an administrative team and the organizing student body believe that this plan addresses the needs of the students to have their voices heard while still maintaining a safe and educational environment for all members of our staff and student body,” school officials wrote.
The school is also planning student-led discussions and other activities on Friday, March 23, in advance of the March for Our Lives events taking place Saturday, March 24, across the country, including here in New Hampshire.
Dover students will be allowed to participate in Wednesday events but students in elementary and middle school will have to be signed out by their parents, according to a letter that was scheduled be sent out Monday.
Dover High School students plan a 17-minute walkout starting at 10 a.m., Superintendent of Schools William Harbron told parents.
Each school will have a designated area, and at Dover High School, there will be a supervised location inside the building, Harbron wrote. “If your student is planning on walking out of the building on this day, the high school requests that students be dismissed from the building with a parent note or phone call by the end of the school day on March 13,” he said.
Harbron wrote, “The District realizes this is a polarizing, sensitive topic which may impact individuals differently,” Harbron wrote. “It is important that students and families are afforded an opportunity to have their voices heard in a safe environment.”
Hudson Superintendent of Schools Lawrence Russell said the administration and the town’s teachers promote respect of the First Amendment within the district, but will address any violations of district rules.
“We also support the notion that violence in schools of any nature is unacceptable and that all schools need to be safe. For that reason, we intend to give the opportunity to staff and students to have a united front in support of school safety without it detracting from the academic day,” he said. “We will not be addressing Second Amendment rights or gun control and any staff member and/or student will have an alternative activity if they do not want to participate.”
And, he warned, “If students walk off campus or violate any school rules, they will be addressed as they would for the same violations on any other day.”
Correspondents Kimberly Houghton, Chris Garofolo, Ryan O’Connor, Meghan Pierce, John Koziol, Kimberley Haas and Jason Schreiber, and senior reporter Shawne K. Wickham, contributed to this report.