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McHenry County school administrators address anti-gun violence protest parameters

Students from Montgomery County, Md., rally Feb. 21 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Students from Montgomery County, Md., rally Feb. 21 at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

HUNTLEY – Students across the U.S. and McHenry County are beginning to plan walkouts against gun violence after the shootings Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida.

Students in Huntley School District 158, Community Unit School District 300 and Woodstock School District 200 have expressed interest in protesting.

The National School Walkout is part of a greater movement spurred by survivors of the shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who are asking for stricter gun laws.

The walkout is planned at 10 a.m. one month after the Valentine’s Day shooting for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the shooting victims.

A “HHS Walkouts” Twitter account is encouraging Huntley High School students to walk out March 14.

District 158 communications director Dan Armstrong confirmed that the account was made by a Huntley High School student, and administrators have had several conversations throughout the week about how to facilitate participation.

“Part of what we’ve communicated is that we really do support students having a voice on the topic of school safety, and we think this is a really good learning opportunity for them on how to become engaged citizens,” Armstrong said.

However, the school also must balance safety, Armstrong said. Having a large number of students exit and remain outside of the school at a set publicized time does not match the safety measures the district follows, he said.

In a message to parents, Interim Superintendent Bradley Hawk said the district is not encouraging students to partake in the walkout, but there are no plans to discipline students who participate in respectful protests.

Similarly, at Districts 200 and 300, high school administrators are meeting with student leadership groups to define what activities students might organize.

District 300 is recommending writing letters to local, state and national leaders; submitting questions to ask legislators in an open forum; registering to vote; writing letters in support of recent victims; and signing a banner for Parkland students.

If a walkout occurs, District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid said it must happen within the building and with the consent of school administration. Any student who leaves the building will face disciplinary consequences.

District 200 communications director Kevin Lyons said discussions have focused on memorializing Parkland victims. Once plans are formalized, the district specifically will communicate the parameters of what is expected to take place on each campus to students’ families.

The American Civil Liberties Union said schools have the right to punish students for missing class, but they can’t punish students more harshly for protesting than if they were missing class for a different reason.

More than 250 colleges have released statements saying that disciplinary action because of responsible participation in peaceful protests will not hurt students’ admission status.

A march is planned for March 24 – a Saturday – in Washington, D.C. Two students from Crystal Lake are planning to attend.

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