Chimacum High School juniors, from left, Clara Johnson Noble, Farryn Olson Wailand and Aurora Plunkett are planning to walk out of class on March 14 at 10 a.m. to bring the national debate about school gun violence to their hometown. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Chimacum High School juniors, from left, Clara Johnson Noble, Farryn Olson Wailand and Aurora Plunkett are planning to walk out of class on March 14 at 10 a.m. to bring the national debate about school gun violence to their hometown. (Jeannie McMacken/Peninsula Daily News)

Jefferson County students plan walkouts to draw attention to school gun violence debate

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.”

“Societal change is often led by the youth in our country, and in a democracy, they too have a right to express their views. While our schools and district remain neutral to any political agendas, we are committed to supporting our students and their First Amendment rights.”

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. We need to make it safer for students coming to school. I have a voice, and I want to be a voice for my generation.

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 Schools

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.”

Plunkett said that Chimacum is a pro-gun area, with shooting and hunting sports.

“People want their guns to use them in the way that they want. When they hear anything about regulations, they shut the conversation down,” she said.

Plunkett wants to work in law enforcement.

“I don’t think guns are bad and I understand how they can be used to protect people,” she said. “I also think the public doesn’t need automatic or semi-automatic weapons. There are a lot of perspectives in our school on this issue.”

Said Wailand: “Some people think gun control means taking away everyone’s guns. We need to find a universal description of what gun control is.”

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Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].

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