NORTH BEND — As schools around the country brace for student walkouts following the Feb. 14 deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla., principals and superintendents are scrambling to perform a delicate balancing act: How to let thousands of students exercise their First Amendment rights while not disrupting school and not pulling administrators into the raging debate over gun control.
Some have taken a hard line, promising to suspend students who walk out, while others are using a softer approach, working with students to set up places on campus where they can remember the victims of the Florida shooting and express their views about school safety and gun control.
Locally, some North Bend High School students and perhaps others at Marshfield High School along with their peers nationwide.
"We are aware that a number of North Bend students are planning to participate in a National School Walkout against gun violence," North Bend School District Superintendent Bill Yester stated in a letter sent home to students' parents Monday.
"The walkout is scheduled for March 14, 2018, at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 lives lost at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. North Bend School District is not supporting or endorsing a particular viewpoint, but we respect students’ rights to express themselves and their interest in honoring the lives that were lost. North Bend School District is not supporting or endorsing a particular viewpoint, but we respect students’ rights to express themselves and their interest in honoring the lives that were lost. I have been working closely with our school principals and our North Bend Police Department and we have plans in place to ensure student safety."
Coos Bay School District Superintendent Bryan Trendell said the staff is prepared for some students to march and said it should be a "peaceful, educational event."
Marshfield High School Principal, Travis Howard, confirmed Tendell's expectations and said the district wants to support the students' right to demonstrate in a peaceful manner.
Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, demonstrations have sprung up on school campuses around the country. But the first large-scale, coordinated national demonstration is planned for Wednesday when organizers of the Women's March have called for a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the 17 students and staff members killed in Florida.
National demonstrations are also planned for March 24, with a march on Washington, D.C.; and on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
North Bend High School junior Gracie Schlager has been doing her part to organize another rally in Coos Bay at noon on March 24 at the Coos Bay Boardwalk.
"After the last incident on Feb. 14, I was inspired to use my voice as well as those of others to fight for change," said Schlager.
"I've been using social media to notify other students and the community," she said.
Schlager said she has also been putting up posters to try to get others involved. She said she hasn't seen to much negativity in responses and has received positive responses from some students and adults alike.
"We want change, but it's not going to happen if everyone doesn't get involved," Schlager said.
Schlager said she will not be participating in Wednesday's walkout, but she will be out of town at a high school music competition.
Schlager, 17, plans to participate in the March 24 walkout. She plans to study either music or nursing upon completion of high school.
For middle-school and high-school administrators, figuring out how to allow the demonstrations during school hours has proven challenging. In some cases, it hasn't gone smoothly.
At North Bend High School, this week is finals week and Yester warned students and parents in the letter sent home that students will not have the opportunity to finish their finals. He said students will be given the opportunity to make up incomplete finals.
"For test security, students walking out during an incomplete test will not be allowed to finish their test when they return. Make-ups for missed finals will occur during designated times, the letter stated. "High School students will be directed across the street, off campus. Upon returning, high school students will be directed to the cafeteria until the next class period change.
"North Bend High School is on a finals schedule this Wednesday. For test security, students walking out during an incomplete test will not be allowed to finish their test when they return. Make-ups for missed finals will occur during designated times. We anticipate some high school students will participate in the National School Walkout, but we realize some middle school and elementary students may also express an interest in participating. The middle school and our two elementary schools have plans to allow students to express themselves in an appropriate manner. Remember that participation in the walkout is a decision between you and your child. At no time will students be required to participate. My first concern is your child’s safety. I am confident that we can minimize the disruption of the school day while supporting the rights of your child. Please take a few minutes today and tomorrow to discuss this with your child in advance and to reinforce school expectations at home. I appreciate the continued support of our schools and the partnership we have in educating your child in a safe environment," the letter said.
Students participating at North Bend High's walkout will be expected to adhere to certain stipulations, according to Yester's letter.
Since the district is not supporting or endorsing a particular viewpoint, staff have been asked not to participate. The North Bend Police Department will be near North Bend High School for added security during this time. Student Expectations
"Students participating in the walkout must gather off campus. They may not roam the building or walk to any other part of their school during this time. High School students will be directed across the street, off campus. Upon returning, high school students will be directed to the cafeteria until the next class period change," the letter said.