Committee works on thoughtful, judicious walkout policy

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PROTEST — Students held up their hands in protest during an unsanctioned student walkout at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School on March 15. This photo was taken from the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School Facebook page.

PARIS — Policy Committee Chairwoman Judy Green told the SAD 17 Board of Directors that work continues on the student walkout policy, but its development is hindered by lack of precedent.

“The fact that there aren’t any existing policies to draw from makes it more difficult,” Green told her fellow directors at the October 1 board  meeting. “Drummond Woodsum (the school’s legal team in Portland) can make suggestions, but there is no legal precedent.”

The desire to address student walkouts on a policy level, followed a student walkout that subsequently turned into a political anti-gun rally at the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School on March 15.

At that time, some 150 students walked out of class outside to stage a silent 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims of the February 14 shooting at the Marjorie Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A group of 33 students continued the walkout as a formal gun protest following the return to class of the others.

Law enforcement stood by and the public was not allowed access on the grounds.

The walkout, which was planned with the administration’s knowledge, was to have coincided with the March 14 Women’s March Youth EMPOWER national student walkout to protest Congress’s inaction in response to the gun violence, but had to rescheduled to March 15 in this district because a snowstorm caused school to be cancelled.

Officials said the majority of the students intended to simply stand in silence in recognition of the students and faculty slain at the high school in Parkland, Florida, then return to classes after 17 minutes.

But a group of students then remained outside chanting anti-gun slogans and at least one brought the protest back inside the building.

Superintendent Rick Colpitts went to social media to address the issue saying, they would allow a “limited forum,” for the students to show their support, but were not sanctioning a walkout. The forum would only be allowed for students to spend 17 minutes in silence in an area where their safety could be monitored.

The students were told they would not be disciplined if they participated in the time of silence, but those who left the school grounds or created an environment administrators believe might extend beyond a peaceful recognition of the tragedy, would be disciplined according to existing school policies and practices.

Because of the subsequent concern expressed by some 50 parents, town officials, teachers and others who showed up at the March 19 Board of Directors meeting to ask about a wide range of issues, then Chairman Ron Kugell asked that the Policy Committee address issues to ensure that the board is part of any future decision concerning use of school grounds for political action.

A number of issues are at stake including what types of activities will be allowed on school grounds; will political groups be allowed to use school grounds as a forum; will the public be kept aware of all activities that may pose a safety issue; and so forth.

Green said the committee is working on a policy that in part ensure those students who remain in the classroom during a protest can maintain a studious full day and one which clarifies that the students who choose to leave can do so without harassment and come back to classes, but they will be responsible for making up work missed.

She said another issue they are looking at is the extent of the district’s responsibility for the safety of students who walk out and the school’s responsibility to help students understand the issues and find way to help them learn to listen to all sides in a “thoughtful, civic and judicious manner .”

The policy, once completed, will go before the full Board of Directors for a vote.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net