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District bans public from school grounds during Wednesday's walkouts

SCHOOL DISTRICT 833 — Those who wish to show solidarity with students protesting gun violence March 14 will have to do so off of school grounds.

Last week, District 833 director of communications Shelly Schafer emailed a statement to families regarding possible walkouts at Park, East Ridge and Woodbury high schools. They will not permit the public on school grounds during the walkouts, citing safety concerns, the statement said. School officials will supervise the walkout.

“We have had some interest from non-students to observe or participate in a show of support for our students,” according to the statement. “In the interest of safety, we will not allow any non-student visitors on our campuses during a walkout.”

Schafer said they are tracking the planning of multiple events via social media. Students could be subject to disciplinary action if they remain out of school for too long and violate district attendance policy, she said in the statement.  

Superintendent Keith Jacobus was not available for comment.

Wednesday’s walkouts are the first of three nationally organized protests intended to denounce gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Women’s March organizers have encouraged students to walk out of their schools on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Florida massacre. They are asking students to stay outside for 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed by a former student who used an assault-style rifle.

Jackson McGough is a student who has helped to organize a walkout Wednesday from the South Entrance of Woodbury High School. The group, who call themselves Woodbury High School Activists, have been providing updates on Twitter.

“The idea is that we will be walking silently out of the the building, first out of respect for the victims and secondly so as not to disturb the learning environment,” McGough, 17, said.

“I think the most important part of this movement is recognizing that something has to be done and students from around the country have a voice,” he added. “Not just when it comes to school shootings but every issue that affects the day-to-day life of students.”

The group will wear orange clothing, he said. They chose the color for its association with the anti-bullying movement.

“We need to start considering disaffected students,” McGough said. “When it comes down to it, there are far too many students who are left out of the system and that's why these things happen.”

McGough said he appreciates the district’s effort to keep students safe by supervising the walkouts. Even if the public is barred from school grounds, their demonstration will be visible to motorists and media from Woodlane Drive, he said.

“We’re trying to stay apolitical thus far,” he said. “Whatever it takes to make schools safer and smarter about threats is what’s important.”

National gun violence protests are also scheduled for March 24 in Washington, D.C., and another on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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