WALLINGFORD — School officials have decided not to let high school students participate in a national school walkout next week to protest gun violence and honor victims of the Florida school shooting.
In lieu of the March 14 walkout, the high schools will offer alternative activities that allow “choice and voice while also recognizing that some may choose not to participate,” school administrators said in a letter sent to parents Tuesday.
“Both high schools are not endorsing a walkout protest,” the letter said. “We want our students in school where we can keep them safe while facilitating their participation in the education program. Should a student walk out on this day, disciplinary consequences will be imposed in accordance with Board of Education policy.”
Over 200,000 students around the country are expected to participate in the walkout at 10 a.m. on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Participants will stand outside for 17 minutes to honor the 17 students and faculty killed. Organizers say the walkout is a call to Congress to “pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools” as well as a protest to “Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence.”
According to the letter sent to Wallingford parents, alternative activities will include: 17 minutes of silence to observe the 17 people who died in the Florida shooting; a “letter campaign” that will allow students to write letters to the Parkland community and their local, state, and national representatives; a teacher-guided meditation session; and a “peer support center” where students “may gather to discuss recent events.”
Students will also be given time to register to vote in the school computer labs. Students who don’t wish to participate will be given a study hall period.
Superintendent of Schools Salvatore Menzo said he and other administrators met with about 50 to 60 students from Sheehan and Lyman Hall high schools last week to discuss the walkout. The three issues students raised most were mental health, school safety and gun legislation, Menzo said.
Lyman Hall Principal Joe Corso said some students raised the point that a school walkout puts students in a less safe situation, contradicting the overall goal of the walkout to make schools safer.
“It kind of violates all the safety protocols that we have in place,” Corso said.
Menzo and Corso said the vast majority of students at the meeting felt it was best to hold the alternative activities. Menzo added a few students still preferred the walkout.
“We’re very proud of our students and we see this as an opportunity for them have ownership in the day and step up and continue to respond in a mature manner,” Menzo said about the meeting with students, which lasted about two hours.
The American Civil Liberties Union says on its website that schools can discipline students for participating in walkouts.
“The law in most places requires students to go to school, schools can discipline you for missing class,” the ACLU’s website said. “But what they can’t do is discipline you more harshly because of the political nature of or the message behind your action.”
Some universities, including the University of Connecticut, have announced in recent weeks that they will not consider any disciplinary action associated with an applicant’s participation in peaceful protests in the admission process