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MCPS Prepares for School Walkouts; Students Leaving School Grounds Will Not Be Excused

Montgomery County Public Students wanting to join students nationwide planning protest of school shootings planned for Wednesday may want to think twice about leaving school property to join those students who intend to protest outside of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C.

MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith has said that any student leaving the building without permission or walking out of class outside of the designated time, will be considered as unexcused.

“The tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla., has affected us all, but the impact has fallen most heavily on students who see themselves in the victims and survivors of the horrific event,” wrote Smith in a message to students and parents. “This tragedy has created real anxiety and fear. It has also inspired students to stand up and speak out for strategies to ensure their safety in school. Civic engagement is the foundation of our democracy and MCPS respects and supports our students’ right to advocate for issues that are important to them. This support is defined in Regulation JFA-RA: Student Rights and Responsibilities and bolstered by the Board of Education’s February 26 resolution on safe and secure schools and communities.”

“I understand that many students want to make their voices heard on March 14 as part of a national school walkout to memorialize the 17 people who lost their lives in Parkland on February 14 and to advocate for school safety. While we support student advocacy, we want students who choose to engage in the civic process to do so while at school, in a learning environment that is supportive and safe. With guidance from MCPS leadership, school administrators are working closely with student leaders to develop a plan for March 14 that will provide students an opportunity to express their views while remaining safe on campus. These demonstrations are student-led and voluntary. No student will be compelled to participate or discouraged from participation,” wrote Smith.

Smith’s letter continued, “leaving school property can disrupt instruction for other students and pose a significant safety risk, especially in light of the increase in school threats. MCPS does not have the staff or resources to ensure students are safe during the school day when they are not on a school campus. I ask that you speak with your child to let them know that if they leave the school building without permission or walk out of class outside of the designated time, it will be considered an unexcused absence.”

In Germantown, students at Northwest High School can participate in the protest which will take place on school grounds at 10:00 am, according to the letter sent home to parents by Northwest Principal Jimmy D’Andrea on Monday evening.

“A small number of students have informed me of their interest in participating in the 17-minute national walkout this Wednesday, March 14, at 10:00 am,” wrote D’Andrea. “The walkout is being organized to commemorate the 17 victims of the school shooting and advocate for laws to protect schools and students, and we respect and support the right of our students to advocate for causes that are important to them.

According to D’Andrea students will be encouraged to go to the stadium or the athletic practice field adjacent to the upper parking lot. He made a point of adding that regular classroom instruction will continue during this time, but students who leave class for the 17-minute protest will be excused. He also added that students are responsible for making up any assignments missed during the period.

D’Andrea’s letter also stated, “if students choose to leave school grounds, the absence will be marked as unexcused.”

Other area schools are planning similar ways which will allow students to express their views and express their civil rights to protest the school shootings.

At Seneca Valley High School in Germantown, according to Principal Marc Cohen, students are planning to march around the perimeter of the school property at about 9:30 am and meet back at the front of the school at 10:00 am 17 minutes of silence.

At Clarksburg High School, where a student was arrested for bringing a loaded handgun to school the day after the Parkland Tragedy, students wishing to participate in the 10:00 am protest will gather at the school stadium. Students will hold a banner created by the student leadership to show support from Clarksburg High School, according to a letter sent to parents on Tuesday by Clarksburg Principal Edward Owusu.

“A staff member will read an informative summary of details from the recent school shooting in Florida and actions that have been taken nationwide to combat violence as well as the purpose of the walkout. Seventeen students will read the names of each of the victims,” said the letter. “A group photo will be taken of students participating in this demonstration.”

The letter added that the school will not be making schoolwide announcement to dismiss students for the demonstration.

While at Poolesville High School students will leave class at 10:00 am and proceed to the football stadium and lie down on the field as a silent memorial from until 10:17 am, according to a letter sent to parents from Poolesville High School Principal Deena Levine.

Once the memorial time is over students will return to school and instruction will resume. Levine wrote that school administration met with student leaders and developed a plan for student activity on campus.

“School administration advised the student leaders that this would be an excused absence only on the condition that all students stay on campus and peacefully participate in the activity,” wrote Levine. “Students agreed to these conditions. There will be two security, two administrators and two counselors on hand to monitor the activity at all times. Staff will take attendance again once all students re-enter class,” said Levine.

“We know that some students may still decide to leave campus to participate in the march in Washington, D.C. We ask that you speak with your child to let them know that if they leave the school building or walk out of class outside of the designated time, it will be considered an unexcused absence.”

Photos by Germantown Pulse.

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