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Local principals debate punishments as National School Walkout day looms

RICHMOND, Va. – On March 14, Ariana Shahidi and Emmaline Clark say they'll walk out of their school building, along with several classmates at Richmond Community High School, to honor the 17 victims gunned down last month at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

"We are planning to walk out on the front steps at 10 in the morning and for 17 minutes, do a moment of silence for each victim," Clark said.

The students say they're taking a stand and joining thousands of students across the country participating in the National School Walkout in an effort to stop gun violence and plea for stricter gun legislation.

Emmaline Clark and Ariana Shahidi

"It's time for this to never happen again," Shahidi said.

"We're all sick of seeing it.  We don't want any more of these school shootings, and we just want it to end and we feel, if the adults will not take action, then we will." added Clark.

While school districts and principals across Virginia are debating whether to let students participate on the 14th, Richmond Community Principal J. Austin Brown says his decision was not difficult.

He's letting his students plan how they'll honor the Parkland victims. He says all plans must be approved by him first and must take place on school property.

"I think this is the most significant youth movement we've seen in many years," Brown said. "These young people are going to be voters in a couple of years. We have to listen to them because they have something to say."​

However, several school district leaders are torn. Some argue safety is a huge concern, and a walk out could be disruptive to the learning environment.

Some principals have issued permission forms for parents to fill out, while others have warned that disciplinary action could be taken if students choose to walk out.

Principal J. Austin Brown

 

The ACLU of Virginia says they're fielding several calls from concerned parents across Virginia.

"Obviously parents are very concerned about their students being punished," says ACLU Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga.

The ACLU-VA recently sent a letter to school superintendents in the commonwealth warning that they cannot punish students who walk out of school as a form of protest more harshly than if they were absent from class for any other reason.

"The bottom line, we're saying to superintendents and principals work with your kids, work with their parents, work something out that allows the students to express their point of view and be safe," Guthrie Gastanaga explained.

The Richmond, Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover school districts say they're still working with principals and parents to decide a course of action.

However, Richmond and Chesterfield have both expressed concerns about students leaving the school building and are discussing alternative plans that would allow students to express their feelings.