PORT TOWNSEND — Students at Port Townsend High School, Blue Heron Middle School and Chimacum High School are planning to bring the school gun violence debate to Jefferson County during walkouts March 14.
School officials will provide supervision for the event, but are not endorsing the demonstrations.
Schools around the country have been urged to participate in the #NationalSchoolWalkout for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. to demand gun control legislation and focus on student safety in the classroom. The action is in response to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla on Feb. 14. Seventeen students and staff were killed.
Port Townsend School District
On Thursday, a joint message from Blue Heron and Port Townsend High School was posted on the school’s websites, addressed to families. It was signed by Carrie Ehrhardt, Port Townsend High School Principal; Patrick Gaffney, Blue Heron Principal; and Jeremy Vergin, School Resource Officer.
The letter explains the schools’ position on the walkout. It reads in part:
“Our schools will not be suspending students who choose to participate in such events. Although, while we would prefer that any student action would take place outside of the school day, there are moments in time when young people decide that they’ve had enough with what society has to offer, and they want their voices to be heard. We believe this is one of those times.”
Port Townsend High School students plan to participate in the walkout.
“In the past, we’ve given the case to others to solve,” said junior Boden Labrie. “Now students are the victims of crimes. This our time to stand up for ourselves and see what in the system has failed and what needs to be changed. ”
Said Junior Asa Mallory: “Gun laws are too loose and we should take a stand to express our concerns.”
Mallory believes a large percentage of the campus will be outside that morning.
Junior Skyanna Iardella’s reason for participating may be the simplest.
“I’m doing it out of respect for those who died,” she said.
Blue Heron Middle School
Principal Patrick Gaffney said he wants his students, who are in fourth through eighth grades, to have a way to express their concerns.
“We’ll take this as an educational opportunity, a teaching moment for kids. As long as they are silent participants, and stay in that parameter safely and peacefully, we have no intent of disciplining them,” he said. “Staff will be there to make sure everyone stays safe.”
Last month, social studies classes discussed civil rights and peaceful demonstrations, he said.
Gaffney said the school holds safety drills often for the 500 students on campus.
“We have a school resource officer who points out strengths and weaknesses in our plans,” he said. “We want to make it clear that students are encouraged to tell staff if they see or hear anything. It’s okay to do that, and we depend on them to tell us.”
Quilcene School District
Quilcene Principal Sean Moss said that he hadn’t heard about a walkout planned at the school.
“We met with the kids and explained civic duty, social responsibility, and how to discuss things in a safe and respectful way,” said Moss, who also has met with staff. “We asked them to get involved by lobbying congress and writing letters to the president.”
Moss said that the school holds drills for all disaster scenarios, including active shooters.
He believes it’s critically important to be prepared before events happen.
“When we believe there is a threat, I’ll do an assessment with a counselor and a couple adults. Then we determine a course of action. We do things to make the school a safe place and have planned specific steps with the police, fire and Jefferson County Sheriff.”
Chimacum High School juniors Clara Johnson Noble, Farryn Olson Wailand and Aurora Plunkett plan to leave their classes at 10 a.m. March 14.
“We’ll be out in front of our high school doors in respectful silence for 17 minutes. We’ll have a few speakers and return to class at 10:30 a.m.,” Noble said. “Our voices will be heard.”
The students believe at least three-quarters of the student body population will participate.
“Our participation shows that we aren’t just sitting here watching our nation experience this terrible thing,” Noble said. “We aren’t willing to do that anymore. We’re speaking out and showing our grief for the people who died and demanding that something be done.
“It’s not supposed to be scary to go to school,” Noble said.
Superintendent Rick Thompson posted a letter on the district’s website Friday that explains the efforts being undertaken to keep students safe.
“School safety continues to be our top priority,” he said. Anonymous tips can be submitted on the “Safety Reporting” tab on the district website, http://www.csd49.org/.
Thompson points to regular emergency drills, new video security technology in buildings, student counseling support, an improved emergency communications system, a new threat assessment protocol, and a special reporting form for bullying, intimidation and harassment as critical school improvements.
He said the district works with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to plan response to a variety of scenarios.
The students are using this issue as a way to become more involved in government.
“A few teachers have told us to take it a step further and write letters to our representatives to make the change we want to see,” Wailand said.
“I plan to collect all the letters and take them to Olympia next week to deliver them to our representatives.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].