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Mid-valley school districts are planning different approaches to an expected student walkout Wednesday, organized to honor those killed in the Feb. 14 Florida massacre and to protest gun violence.

Some are planning to support student efforts, setting aside supervised spaces for the protest. Some are treating Wednesday as a regular school day or focusing on lockdown drills, with consequences to be levied at students who leave.

The walkout is slated for 10 a.m. and is to last for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim in the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School last month in Parkland, Florida.

In Lebanon, Superintendent Rob Hess said the Lebanon Community School District is setting aside supervised gathering spaces for students who choose to join the walkout. Students who leave campus will face discipline, but students will not face sanctions if they stay on campus during the walkout and participate with respect.

"We are proud of our students for driving this conversation, as communication is the key to keeping our schools safe," Hess wrote in a letter to parents. "We look forward to collaborating with our students, families, school board, staff, and law enforcement to ensure LCSD remains a safe and welcoming district for all."

In Corvallis, the school board unanimously approved a resolution supporting students who participate in both the walkout and the "March for our Lives" event planned in Corvallis at 10 a.m. March 24. No parameters were set on participation as a part of that vote.

"We are following them," board member Terese Jones said. "We should not insert ourselves into their message on an issue that we have failed to lead on." 

Sweet Home, in contrast, plans no particular observance on Wednesday and will take action against students who leave, Superintendent Tom Yahraes said.

"Sweet Home's approach is to treat the day like any other day of instructional programming. We've communicated this expectation to students and staff."

Yahraes said social studies classes may use the day to review "historical protests and other relevant civic issues," as long as balance in perspective is offered.

"Regarding walkouts, our job is to teach students, have them in school supervised and participating in learning. Students who may skip school for a walkout will be treated like any other student who leaves school without permission in accordance with our student handbook," he said.

Greater Albany Public Schools isn't taking one specific approach, but has named Wednesday "School Safety Day" and may practice drills.

That's a decision that doesn't sit well with some Albany parents, who see the choice as a direct attempt to throw a roadblock in the paths of students who plan to protest.

"All students will discuss school safety on this day," Superintendent Jim Golden told the Democrat-Herald, adding that schools will go over the safety procedures outlined in the "I Love U Guys" protocols involving lockout, lockdown and evacuation drills.

Some principals also sent home letters asking families to talk with their children about the importance of following the school's plans for the day.

"We want to make sure our kids and staff know what to do in case of emergency situations we might experience," Golden said.

Golden said schools will participate in Safety Day in various ways, given the difference in ages and the fact that some schools already have done lockdown drills recently. He did not respond to a question about discipline.

Parent Matthew Arck wrote a letter to the district citing the 1969 Supreme Court case of Tinker vs. Des Moines, noting student protests fall under protected free speech unless they are proven to be disruptive to the educational process.

"Surely, the scheduling of a mandatory event at the same date and time as a political protest would be a conflict better avoided?" he wrote. 

Stacey Bartholomew said she doesn't appreciate what, to her, appears to be a direct attempt to block student expression.

"The students have a right to protest, and the students have their own organization, and it makes a direct statement to the students that the administration is in opposition to that; to their desire to make a statement about school safety," she said.

Students should be able to honor the victims of the violence and to make a statement for the rest of the country to see, Bartholomew went on.

“Over two decades of dealing with violence in the schools, and the most effective response that we have had has been the most recent response, because it has been organized by the students themselves," she said. "Being able to participate in citizen activism is an important part of a citizen’s life, and these are future citizens.”


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