CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — Students across Hampton Roads are planning to walk out of school next week in response to the Parkland, Florida, shooting. Students say they want to stop the violence.
10 On Your Side reached out to all seven school districts to find out if they are aware of the planned walkout. All of them tell 10 On Your Side they are addressing it to make sure everyone stays safe.
The Chesapeake school district is allowing the walkout and asking parents to sign a permission slip – they say – to make parents aware of the event and grant permission for student involvement. According to the district, all seven high schools and the Chesapeake Career center are participating. A spokesman with the Chesapeake Police Department said additional officers will be on patrol at each school participating, solely as a precaution.
Virginia Beach also sent a letter out detailing school board policies and regulations, which allow assembly under certain guidelines. However, students will receive an unexcused absence for the class period.
By now, you are probably aware of a student walkout being planned for March 14 by a national organization. As a school division, we recognize that some of our parents and students have identified this as an opportunity for young people to exhibit civil responsibility. Nevertheless, our schools must operate in accordance with existing School Board policies and regulations.
Specifically, School Board Policy 5-40 for Assemblies/Demonstrations acknowledges each person’s constitutional right to freedom of speech while also outlining specific parameters and consequences for student participation in both planned and spontaneous assemblies during school hours. In keeping with that policy, school division staff will neither encourage nor discourage students from exercising their right to participate in any peaceful school walkout. Students who choose to participate in the walkout will receive an unexcused absence for the missed class period.
If a walkout should occur at any of our schools, we will deploy staff as necessary to ensure student safety. For example, staff members who are not leading instruction at the time of the walkout will be identified to supervise students in a designated area at the school. As a reminder, students are not allowed to leave school property during the instructional day. Also, in an effort to minimize security concerns, members of the community, including parents, will not be permitted to participate in any student-led walkout on school grounds. If a parent elects to sign a student out of school at the time of the walkout, they must leave the school campus immediately.
Ultimately, decisions regarding student participation in events such as this are personal for each family. Our hope is that this information will be helpful to you as your family talks about walkouts and the many other ways in which students can make their voice heard on important topics.
Norfolk Public Schools are planning to address the planned walkout with parents in the coming days. However, 10 On Your Side was told by the district spokeswoman that the district remains neutral, students will not be penalized for participating and there will be extra security.
In Suffolk, the district superintendent sent out a memo:
Deran R. Whitney, Ed.D.
Dear Parents and Guardians:
It has come to our attention that some students are planning to participate in a National School Walkout
against gun violence. The walkout is scheduled for March 14, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. for 17 minutes in honor
of the 17 lives lost at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
We are proud of the student leaders in our school division who have come to us in advance to share their
interest in participating. While we are not supporting or endorsing a particular viewpoint, we respect
students’ rights to express themselves and their interest in honoring the lives that were lost.
We are working closely with schools and have put a plan in place to ensure student safety. Each school
has designated a meeting location in advance and will have a plan in place for supervising students. In
addition, due to safety concerns, participation will be limited to enrolled students and staff. The Suffolk
Police Department will be present at each school for added security during this time.
● Students participating in the walkout must gather in the designated areas only. They may not roam the
building or walk to any other part of the campus during this time.
● Students are expected to conduct themselves appropriately and to follow school rules at all times.
● If students are disruptive, violate school rules or leave campus during this time, they will receive a
consequence aligned with School Board policy.
● Students must return to class when directed.
Please note that while we are preparing for possible student participation in the National School Walkout
at the middle and high school levels, we realize some elementary students may also express an interest
in participating. If this occurs, elementary schools will be directed to allow younger students to express
themselves in a more age-appropriate manner.
Please be mindful that participation in the walkout is a decision between you and your child. At no time
will students be compelled to participate or discouraged from doing so. As a school division, our top
priority on this day is student safety and minimizing the disruption to the school day.
Parents, please take a moment to discuss this with your child in advance and to reinforce school
expectations at home. Thank you for your continued support and partnership.
And in Portsmouth, they’ve addressed the walkout with a letter. District officials say they respect students’ rights to free speech, but student conduct and school safety applies at all times.
Dear Portsmouth Families,
This is an important message about school safety and student expression.
Conversations about school safety have intensified since the tragic school shooting in Florida last month. Understandably, communities across the country, including students, have experienced a range of emotions.
In Portsmouth, we want all of our schools to be safe, and we also acknowledge students’ rights to express themselves about it.
As a school division, we do many things to maintain safety. For example, we have established procedures for school entry such as using intercoms and buzzers in order to get in. We maintain a visitor policy that requires people to identify themselves and sign-in. Access is granted for those conducting official school business. There are security guards and uniformed police officers in our schools. Out of an abundance of caution, you may see more of them in our buildings in coming days. We also use security cameras and conduct safety searches as needed. If you have any safety concerns, you can report them by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, we have been made aware of possible student protests in response to the Florida shooting. We respect students’ rights to free speech as well as the rights of those who express opposing views and those who don’t express a viewpoint at all. As a school division, we will maintain a neutral viewpoint, and we will continue to follow appropriate steps to maintain safe and orderly learning environments for all students.
While students may choose to exercise their rights, the rules related to student conduct and school safety apply at all times. This includes rules about attendance and tardiness, gathering on school grounds, leaving school during the instructional day, the dress code, distribution of materials, and the items allowed on school property. For more details, please refer to the Code of Student Conduct distributed at the beginning of the school year, which also can be found on our website at www.ppsk12.us under the Parent and Student sections.
In Portsmouth schools, safety will remain a top priority. We pledge to do our best to keep everyone safe.
Portsmouth Public Schools
Newport News sent a statement saying civic engagement is seen as positive, and students will not face disciplinary action for participating.
In keeping with our commitment to developing citizen-ready students, Newport News Public Schools recognizes our students’ right to assemble and exhibit civil leadership. NNPS will neither encourage nor discourage student participation. If NNPS students choose to participate in the walkout, school staff will not impede student participation, but they will monitor student movement to ensure safety. Students will not face disciplinary action for participating in the walkout if their activities remain peaceful and orderly.
Several external organizations are requesting for students to take part in a national school walkout for 17 minutes on March 14, 2018. It is our understanding that the walkout is in response to gun violence and the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida.
While we know there are widely held and differing opinions on this matter, school division staff will neither encourage nor discourage student participation. Our plan is to maintain the integrity of the instructional day and the safety of our students. We encourage you to speak with your child about the importance of the instructional day and urge him/her to remain in class, as we believe this is the safest environment.
Students who choose to walk out will be expected to do so in a civil and respectful manner and not interrupt instruction. For the safety of our students, there will be a designated area on school grounds where students may gather. Designated staff will be present to monitor student safety. Disciplinary actions will not occur unless students are disruptive, violate the HCS Student’s Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, or leave campus. Students will be allowed to re-enter classrooms and resume instruction, including any work missed during the walkout, at the conclusion of the 17 minutes.
In an effort to minimize security concerns, members of the community, including parents, will not be permitted to participate in any student-led walkout on school grounds. If a parent elects to sign a student out of school at the time of the walkout, they will be required to immediately leave the school campus.
HCS believes this is an excellent time to talk with your child about opportunities for civic engagement and the importance of developing the knowledge and skills to make a difference.
Thank you for your continued support.