HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Officials with Henrico County Public Schools have announced their strategy on how the district will deal with students taking part in the National School Walkout on March 14.
Students across the country are participating in the demonstration to honor the 17 victims killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and in an effort to stop gun violence and plea for stricter gun laws.
Henrico school leaders said they are working with students, school faculties and law enforcement to address these "unique circumstances" of the event.
The following email was sent to Henrico parents Thursday evening:
This message is primarily for those with students in high school and middle school.
Many students across the nation – including large numbers of students in Henrico County – are planning to walk out of classes for 17 minutes on Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m. in response to the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Your family may have already received information about this from your school’s principal. Henrico County Public Schools has specific plans to address these unique circumstances at our middle and high schools (no elementary school involvement is anticipated at this time.)
What is the position of Henrico County Public Schools on this issue?
We believe that students are participating in the walkout to honor the 17 victims and to raise awareness of our community’s collective belief in safe schools. While we do not encourage walking out of class, students do not forfeit their First Amendment rights when they enter school. Such a walkout may present significant safety and classroom instruction concerns, but it also presents opportunities for learning and growth. Henrico Schools believes in engaging our students in diverse educational, social and civic learning experiences that inspire and empower students to become contributing citizens. Out of this unspeakable tragedy, a valuable teaching moment has emerged.
School principals and their administrative teams have been working this week to maximize the instructional opportunities while minimizing safety concerns. For example, schools have:
- Worked with student leaders to identify the goals of the walkout and to set expectations.
- Asked what Standards of Learning can be met through planning and participating.
- Asked how students can participate safely.
- Asked how to accommodate students who do not wish to participate.
- Developed a plan to take attendance before and after the walkout.
- At the middle school level, required parents/guardians to give written consent.
Plans may differ from school to school based on unique safety concerns, the goals of student leaders, and the outcome of continued discussions between students and their school administrators.
What is our expectation of students for these 17 minutes?
Our expectation is that students will act peacefully and remain on school property in a designated safe space. Leaving school property without permission is a “category one” violation of the Code of Student Conduct. We expect students to return to class promptly after the 17 minutes of reflection.
Do students face disciplinary action (such as a suspension) for participating?
Generally, no. Students may receive a follow-up discussion (a “teachable moment”) based on their actions. Should other issues arise beyond leaving class for 17 minutes, then normal disciplinary procedures would be considered and applied as needed. All students must remember: disorderly conduct that disrupts school operations is not acceptable.
What is the role of Henrico County Public Schools employees?
Employees will not be active participants in the walkout. School Board policy precludes employees from engaging in any activity supporting or opposing a partisan political cause while on duty, while on school property during school hours, or while representing the school division. While some may consider the occasion to be partisan or political in nature, others may consider it a non-partisan moment of remembrance and honor for the Parkland victims. Either way, we believe the effort is, and should be, student-led, yet monitored by adults. Employees, while on school time, will carry out their professional duties.
What about students who choose not to participate?
Schools will provide designated areas where students opting not to participate will be supervised. In most cases, this will likely be their classroom.
What about visitors to school property during the walkout time?
We expect that adults, such as parents and other relatives, might want to participate. However, as is true at any time during the school day, the campus is not open to unlimited access by the public. Anyone who enters the campus during the school day must follow normal procedures that begin with signing-in at the school’s main office.
What can I do before the walkout takes place?
We encourage families to have a discussion with their student(s) about his or her beliefs related to the walkout. Discuss your family’s expectations for their actions and behavior on March 14. Remind students that their school division is interested in respecting their wishes while being protective of everyone’s safety.
I still have specific questions and concerns about my student and/or my student’s school. Where do I go for answers?
Your school principal will be happy to discuss additional questions or concerns.
What about the next national walkout scheduled to take place on April 20, 2018?
We will continue to monitor plans and share updates in the coming weeks.
Please know that we are proactively working with students, school faculties and local law enforcement to ensure any student-led efforts are handled in the most peaceful, respectful way and in the best interests of our children. Thank you for your time and attention.
Patrick C. Kinlaw
Michelle F. “Micky” Ogburn, Chair
Henrico County School Board
Three Chopt District