Education

SLO County school districts prepare for student walkouts to protest gun violence

San Luis Obispo County school districts are preparing for a mass student walkout and protest against gun violence March 14, one month to the day since a shooter embarked on a bloody rampage inside a Florida high school.

The student walkout is part of a national movement inspired by the survivors of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students across the country will walk out of class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes — one minute for each person slain in the Feb. 14 shooting.

Though some school districts have promised to crack down on such protests — a superintendent in Texas threatened to suspend any student walking out — most districts in SLO County said they are working with students, teachers and principals to coordinate the planned protest.

The Tribune reached out to local school districts for details on their plans for the walkout. Here are their responses:

Atascadero Unified School District

Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Tom Butler said he met recently with principals and staff throughout the district to provide advice and support about “site-level decisions” on March 14.

“Ultimately, our students do have a right to express their feelings, beliefs and opinions in this matter,” he said. “We just want to make sure we have safe campuses.”

Butler said the district wants to prevent an “oppositional or confrontational type situation” from happening, and that the district itself must remain neutral on the subjects.

Coast Unified School District

Vicki Schumacher, superintendent for Coast Unified School District, said she’s heard from Coast Union High School students who are interested in participating. She said Principal Scott Ferguson is coordinating with students to provide them 17 minutes of speaking time in the school library.

“He’s been meeting with students to figure out how those 17 minutes will look,” she said.

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Lucia Mar Unified School District

In a statement posted to the Lucia Mar Unified School District website, the district wrote that it was aware of walkout plans.

“In response, as a proactive step, Lucia Mar schools will set aside time on March 14, 2018, at 10 a.m. for students to speak out and have their voices heard,” according to the statement. “Our school principals have worked with students, including student leaders to ensure this time is constructive and meaningful to students. This opportunity for ‘student voice’ will be on campus with parameters that keep everyone safe.”

Paso Robles Joint Unified School District

Martha Clayton, spokeswoman for Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, declined to comment on the district’s policy toward the planned protest other than to say, “district and site administrators are working together with students to come up with alternative activities.”

Clayton declined to explain what she meant by “alternative activities.”

San Luis Coastal Unified School District

San Luis Coast Unified School District intends to let the students lead the protest, Assistant Superintendent Kimberly McGrath said.

“We’ve encouraged site administration to collaborate with students and/or parent leaders to honor those 17 minutes,” she said.

While San Luis Obispo High School is likely to be the largest protest, McGrath said the district has heard from interested students at Morro Bay High School, Pacific Beach High School, Laguna Middle School and Los Osos Middle School.

“At each of those five secondary schools, we’ve heard of students organizing different ways to express their opinions and encourage dialogue around the topic,” she said. “From a district perspective, we have to remain neutral when it comes to political issues. But we encourage students to engage in civil discourse.”

Shandon Joint Unified School District

Representatives for Shandon Joint Unified School District did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler

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