In Belleville, Students Risk 'Consequences' for Joining March 14 Walkout

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Last month, Clayton High School students rallied to draw attention to the need for new gun control laws. Students in Belleville aren't being given the same chance. - DOYLE MURPHY
  • Doyle Murphy
  • Last month, Clayton High School students rallied to draw attention to the need for new gun control laws. Students in Belleville aren't being given the same chance.

Students across the country are preparing to walk out of their schools tomorrow to demand stricter gun control laws — the kind that might have prevented Nikolas Cruz from buying the AR-15-style rifle he used to gun down seventeen Florida high school students on Valentine's Day.

The planned walkouts raise all sorts tensions for school administrators, who have understandable worries about kids bolting from classrooms — heck, those kids might utilize their First Amendment rights as if they were actual people. The scandal!

In a letter sent home to students attending the Signal Hill School District in Belleville, Illinois, the school district warned that it was media coverage of these events that poses the real danger.

"National media attention will most likely highlight these planned walk-outs; causing a vulnerability to the security of all schools," the letter read. "The district is concerned about security of our students and feel we must keep children from exiting the school during the planned time for protesting, at 10 a.m."

It concludes, "Walking out of the classroom carries consequences as identified in the student handbook."

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The letter raised the hackles of one mom, Robin Wheeler, who posted it on Facebook.

"It feels like they're trying to actively miss the point," says Wheeler, a local chef (and former RFT contributor).

Adding to Wheeler's frustration was seeing how other nearby school districts were responding. In her Facebook thread, Wheeler's friends began posting letters they'd received from their kids' schools — some with a much different take on the day of political action.

For instance, the Maplewood Richmond Heights School District will allow elementary school students to leave as long as they have parental permission slips; middle and high-school school students will be permitted to join student-led demonstrations on campus. (Still, Maplewood's announcement included the caveat that the demonstration "is not a pro- or anti-gun rally," and that any students who leave campus without permission "may face consequences.")

Another parent posted a letter from Parkway South Middle, which states that students will be permitted to stage a walk-out in the gym, under teacher supervision. "Students who choose to participate will be marked 'not in class' (NIC)," the letter continued, "and will have a WO (for walk out) in the comments of their attendance record. This notation is not a penalty."

To Wheeler, these responses and others indicated that some schools are accommodating students' desire to protest even while making sure to provide the necessary adult supervision. Signal Hill, meanwhile, was acting like a caricature out of John Hughes' imagination.

"This just feels like instead of dealing with any potential security incidents, they are missing a huge learning opportunity," she says. "These kids are thirteen, fourteen years old, and [school shootings have] been a part of their childhood, from the beginning of their lives. The kids are are missing a part of their own history when they're told to just stay in the classroom with their head down."

And go figure: Wheeler says the clueless letter from Belleville's superintendent has only amplified her eighth grader's desire to join the protests.

See also: After Parkland Shooting, St. Louis Students Demand Action on Gun Reform

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com

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