SUNNYSIDE Area students who decide to walk out of class Wednesday will likely face different reactions from school officials, depending on whether they protest guns or focus on remembering students killed in the so-called “Valentine’s Day Massacre.”
The political action committee Women’s March is calling on students nationwide to walk out of class at 10 a.m. March 14 to rally for more stringent gun-control. The political event comes one month to the day after the Feb 14 mass shooting that left 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students dead on campus in Parkland, Fla.
As of Friday, the political group said it had organized 2,545 anti-gun protests nationwide, including 110 in Washington state – none in the Lower Yakima Valley.
The political action committee has organized three rallies in College Place, one in Ellensburg and one in Richland.
Still, a few students in Grandview and Sunnyside have said they will be walking out of class, even if their action is not part of an organized event.
The Toppenish School District is taking the lead locally in its effort to turn what could be disruptive into something positive.
Superintendent John Cerna said Toppenish Middle School is planning an assembly for students to learn about school safety and remember the 17 students killed in Florida.
In that way, the district can keep the event from becoming an anti-gun rally.
As far as the high school, students have not said much about a protest.
“Right now, we’re not sure, yet,” he said of what the district will do at the high school.
Cerna said it’s likely “not a problem” if students focus on remembering shooting victims and school safety.
Sunnyside and Grandview are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Sunnyside School District spokeswoman Jessica Morgan said the district is aware a walkout is being planned.
“We, the district, aren’t endorsing it,” she said. “But if students are going to walk out, our expectations are that they do it in a positive and non-disruptive manner and return to class when it is over.”
Morgan did not say what, if any, disciplinary action could result from a walkout.
She declined further comment, but provided a copy of the school district policy on absences.
The policy requires students to attend class, unless an absence meets guidelines to be excused.
Being absent without parental consent is generally not excused under the policy.
So, leaving class without permission could lead to a reduction in grade, a conference with parents and up to expulsion, if students have a history of being chronically absent, according to the policy.
Grandview School District Superintendent Henry Strom, too, said district officials are researching its policies and handbook to see if and how they would apply to such a walkout.
In the meantime, he said administrators are in “dialogue with the students to find a means to express their concerns.”
Strom acknowledged that students have a right to free speech, but conceded the right is not absolute and that any action would have to be conducted in a manner that is not disruptive.
If students do walk out, he said the district will “try to keep kids on the school campus.”
“We can keep them safe there,” he said.
A protest is almost certain at Grandview Middle School, student Sashalee Oseguera said Friday in a message to The Daily Sun.
“Grandview Middle School will be having a walkout at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes in support of wanting more gun control,” she said. “We support what Teen Activists, like Emma Gonzalez, are doing & we want our support to be seen & shared.”
Oseguera also said the walkout will be 17 minutes long “in honor/remembrance” of the Valentine’s Day Massacre victims.
While school employees are talking with students about school safety this week, Burge also encouraged parents to take advantage of this teaching moment at home.
“Kids are living with this trauma,” he said. “Now, more than ever, parents need to keep that dialogue open. It’s a good time for parents to be talking to their kids.
“Parents, have a discussion at home about your family beliefs.”
Strom said that if a walkout occurs on any Grandview campus, the district will be watching out for every student.
“No student is going to be coached, coaxed or coerced,” he said, noting he would defer to school district policies and the student handbook if any rally goes too far.
In Zillah, school officials said that no protest is on the horizon. But teachers and administrators are huddling.
“We’re working to be proactive,” Zillah School District Superintendent Doug Burge said. “We’re preparing.”
Burge, too, said students who leave class and are disruptive could face discipline “depending on the severity” in according with district policies and the student handbook.
But he doesn’t want it to come to that. Instead, Burge said school employees will “try to work with them (students), rather than against them” in remembering the shooting victims and in talking about school safety.
“We’ll try to work in a positive way, maybe a moment of silence,” he said. “We believe we can turn this into a positive environment. But we’ll take a different tone if it’s a protest.”