West Liberty-Salem administration is distancing itself from a student walkout planned for Wednesday morning. Students organizing the walkout, which is part of a national effort, provided information to the media in advance of the planned event earlier this month in order to inform the community of their intentions.
In an e-mail to the Urbana Daily Citizen/River Current on Monday afternoon, West Liberty-Salem Superintendent Kraig Hissong wrote: “In the March 6 news article titled, WL-S Students Join National School Walkout, incorrect information was provided. The District is not sponsoring nor endorsing any walkout event on March 14. The district maintains a neutral stance in regards to political issues. In the article, it stated that the public was invited to our school to participate in the walkout. This is incorrect. The public and media are not welcome during the school day for any such demonstration as school safety and security are of the utmost importance. The article also stated that teachers and faculty were encouraged to participate. Again, the district is not organizing or supporting a walkout; therefore, staff have not been encouraged to participate.”
When asked if the student walkout has been cancelled, Hissong said in a later interview with the Daily Citizen on Monday that “it was never organized to begin with. It was organized by students, not by the administration.”
Hissong said he and other school administrators talked to the organizers and “encouraged them to find a safe location on the grounds if they were going to do this. We talked about alternatives that wouldn’t interfere with the school day.”
He said students who leave the building will face an unexcused absence, no more or less discipline than other unexcused absences. He said all students know this is a risk they will be taking.
Hissong also said another student group not wishing to be connected with any national group is leading an alternative activity – a moment of silence in the gym in honor of the students killed in Florida.
Students from WL-S who contacted the Daily Citizen/River Current earlier this month said they were among students across the country who planned to leave classrooms for a 17-minute National School Walkout at 10 a.m. on March 14 to protest legislators’ lack of action to curb gun violence. Initiated by the Women’s Youth Empower Movement, the national protest is to last 17 minutes in recognition of the 17 students and staff members killed by gunfire Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“As a community that was directly affected by this (gun violence) epidemic, we are looking to make as much of an impact as we can,” Madeline Emory told the Urbana Daily Citizen/River Current when announcing the students’ plans to the media. She and fellow seniors Addy Wilson, Nick Williams and Allyson Smith organized the WL-S walkout.
“Students wishing to participate can sign out and meet at the liberty bell in front of West Liberty-Salem High School. Teachers and faculty are encouraged to participate, but teachers must find another teacher to watch their class. Anybody from the community is also welcome to meet outside of the school to show their support,” Emory stated in her previous messages to media. Hissong’s statement released Monday indicates the public is not welcome to attend the event or be on campus during the event. Teacher participation is also not encouraged by the administration.
According to previously-released information from the student organizers, participating students will find a table where they can write letters to state and federal legislators.
“This is an important movement across the nation,” Wilson told the Daily Citizen/River Current for the earlier story. “No child, teacher or parent should ever be forced to go through an event like this, and this is the time to change, to make sure these shootings come to an end,” she added, referring to Parkland’s tragedy, last year’s shooting at WL-S that injured two students and other shootings across the country.
“Gun laws and gun violence in school is a very sensitive topic to many students and teachers, especially at my high school,” Smith told the Daily Citizen/River Current for the earlier story.
“As a student, you have the right to peacefully protest and the right not to,” Smith added. “We just hope to bring awareness to reform the issue of gun violence in school and to honor the 17 people who passed away at the … Parkland shooting.”
Asked about the school and community response to the planned walkout, Williams said: “Several parents and local activists have contacted me thanking our steering committee on all the time we have sacrificed in organizing this event; however, many members in the local community believe we are only puppets to the Democratic Party or brainwashed children. Nevertheless we will not be deterred in our mission to make our voice heard.”
Emory said she hopes people of all political persuasions research the Women’s Youth Empower Movement.
“Whether or not you support the walkout, I hope that we can find common ground in the notion that things cannot continue the way that they are,” she said. “It is time for a change … I encourage you to protest Congress’s failure to address this crisis on any level since Columbine in 1999. It is time to make schools a safe place in America again.”