By Bob Skolnik
One month after 17 people were killed by a gun-wielding former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students at high schools and middle schools across the nation will be walking out of their classes at 10 a.m. on March 14, part of the National Student Walkout Day to protest gun violence.
School administrators locally are trying to walk the fine line of allowing students to voice their opinions on a matter they care deeply about while trying not to take a political stance and maintaining the integrity of the school day.
At Riverside-Brookfield High School, following a meeting between school officials and student leaders, the administration will permit a 17-minute walkout during which students will gather in the football stadium without any disciplinary consequences.
Those planning the walkout at RBHS say that they want to show solidarity with the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to advocate for gun control measures and other measures to stop gun violence.
"I feel like it's our duty as a school to be a part of it, because when you see so much violence and craziness happening in the country, and our legislators aren't doing anything about it, we as the people who are almost being directly affected by it have to kind of take a stand," said RBHS senior Casey Whisler.
RBHS students walking out will carry signs, pose for a group photo, and hear from a student speaker or two.
In a letter sent to parents on March 9, Principal Kristin Smetana said students must be back in their classrooms by 10:22 a.m. to avoid disciplinary consequences.
"The administration understands the significance of the event and wholeheartedly supports the students and families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School," Smetana wrote. "However, we will not encourage or organize a protest (walkout) during instructional time. Therefore, RBHS will be operating under our normal class schedule on March 14."
Students who walk out during a test or quiz will not be able to make up that assignment, and anyone not meeting behavioral expectations during the walkout may face discipline.
School administrators and local police will watch over the walkout to make sure students are safe.
"Our goal would be just to ensure student safety, that's all," said Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel.
At Lyons Township High School administrators are also expecting students to walk out. According to an email sent out to LTHS parents, the school is not planning, organizing or coordinating the event, but it expects that "a significant number of students will participate."
The school will respect the rights of students to demonstrate as long as it is "peaceful, civil and well-informed."
Local police will be present at both LTHS campuses and the school will be limiting visitor access on March 14. Community members were specifically asked not to show up to join in the walkout.
The letter states that students will not be punished for participating in the demonstration, but noted that students could face consequences for tardiness, disruptive behavior, and attendance.
As a practical matter students won't face any consequences if they are in their fourth period class that starts at 10:27 said Jennifer Bialobok, the coordinator of community relations for LTHS.
At local middle schools students will be allowed to leave their classrooms at 10 a.m., but will not be allowed to go outside unless a parent or guardian signs them out.
Administrators at Hauser Junior High in Riverside met with six student leaders to come up with a plan for the student-led event.
Hauser students will be allowed to walk out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. into the hallway for 17 minutes. They'll have the opportunity to write letters of empathy to students in Parkland, write 17 positive messages on post-it notes to be placed on lockers, and create a banner stating what a safe school means to them. Instruction will continue for those students who choose to remain in class.
At Komarek School in North Riverside sixth, seventh and eighth-graders will be allowed to walk out of their classrooms at 10 a.m. and gather in the school's gym. In the gym, students will begin with 170 seconds of silence, 10 seconds for each victim at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The Komarek event was planned by two Komarek students working with administrators.
"It's a total student-led activity," said Komarek District 94 Superintendent Brian Ganan. "We're not taking obviously any political stance or anything. This is coming from the kids."
At S.E. Gross Middle School in Brookfield, students will be have the option to leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. and gather in the school's cafeteria, though classes will continue for those who remain in class.
"Students choosing to participate will assemble in the SEG cafeteria and student leaders will ask for a moment of a silence and will encourage the students at a later date to write politicians at the local level asking for change that they so wish," said S.E. Gross Principal Ryan Evans.