Harford County Public Schools students will not be allowed to walk out of school next Wednesday as part of the nationwide protest against violence in schools, according to a letter the superintendent distributed to students Thursday morning.
Instead, they will be presented a “learning module” through which they can express their opinions, Superintendent Barbara Canavan wrote.
At the private John Carroll School in Bel Air, rather than participate in a walkout on Wednesday, students will gather for a prayer service, a school spokesperson said.
The protest is a nationwide movement being organized by the group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER to call attention to the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 fatal shooting of 14 students and 3 staff members at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
Organized walkouts have already been planned at Harford Community College, Fallston High School, Aberdeen High School and Havre de Grace High School, according to the organization’s website, www.actionnetwork.org. None of the walkout organizers could be reached for comment Thursday morning.
In her letter, which was dated March 7 – when schools were closed because of snow, Canavan wrote that she understands there are “raw emotions” among students, but “we cannot condone students leaving classes during the instructional day to participate in this activity.”
“It presents, paradoxically, a threat to student safety,” Canavan wrote.
Because the walkout has been widely publicized, any students who are outside could be more vulnerable to more violence, the superintendent explained, writing that the school system does not have adequate staffing and resources to supervise them if they leave the buildings.
Rather than permit students to walk out of school, the school system is preparing a “learning module,” according to the letter, “that will provide students with an opportunity to share their feelings about recent events across the nation and will allow them to speak about solutions in a structured way.”
The module will be presented at 10 a.m. Wednesday, the same time the walkout is scheduled, the letter states.
“Keeping students safe while they discuss their feelings surrounding the recent tragedy is our priority,” Canavan wrote. “This activity will provide a means for students of varying perspectives to engage in a positive dialogue while remaining in a safe and secure environment.”
Students who choose to leave school buildings “may be subject to disciplinary action for disrupting school operations,” the letter ends.
The school system’s prohibition on student participation in the walkout “disappointed” Kimberly Lynch, the mother of a C. Milton Wright High sophomore, who sent her mother a copy of the letter she received Thursday.
In a letter Lynch wrote to Canavan, a copy of which was provided to The Aegis, she disagreed with Canavan’s characterization of “raw emotions.”
“First, these are not just ‘raw emotions.’ In fact, these emotions have had plenty of time to age. The events in Parkland may have renewed the anger, frustration and helplessness many of us feel, including our kids, but it’s certainly been on the minds of all of us for many years,” Lynch wrote. “Raw emotion is “I am shocked that thing happened”. Unfortunately, because nothing has changed, we are past that and now at ‘I’m no longer shocked, it’s a matter of where and when not if.’”
She questioned the school system’s learning module. She asked specifically what will be taught to the students, and pointed out that “no learning module could possibly be adequate at expressing our children’s feelings,” Lynch wrote.
“We teach them about their constitutional rights. We teach them that all great changes have grown from small protests and movements that took root in regular citizens like them. We tell them the 2nd Amendment right ‘shall not be infringed,’ so there’s not much to be done to stop these shootings, but then we ask them to give up their Constitutional rights to speech, assembly and protest in the name of ‘school safety.’ That is insanity,” she wrote.
At John Carroll, several students approached Principal Tom Durkin about participating in the March 14 walkout to show solidarity with their fellow students in Parkland, according to Kathy Walsh, director of marketing and communications for the school.
At John Carroll, where the administration strives to “always encourage our students to make an impact by living their values,” a prayer service has been planned to be held outside, weather permitting, at 10 a.m.
It “will last for 17 minutes to honor the memory of the 17 victims who tragically lost their lives,” Walsh said. “We are proud of our students for their passion and desire to make a difference, and fully support them in this effort.”
This story will be updated.