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Middletown, Lower Dauphin districts prepare for Wednesday 'walkouts' over school violence

Posted 3/12/18

By Dan Miller and Laura Hayes

danmiller@pressandjournal.com and laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

Events are planned for Wednesday, March 14, in both Lower Dauphin and Middletown Area school …

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Middletown, Lower Dauphin districts prepare for Wednesday 'walkouts' over school violence


By Dan Miller and Laura Hayes

danmiller@pressandjournal.com and laurahayes@pressandjournal.com

Events are planned for Wednesday, March 14, in both Lower Dauphin and Middletown Area school districts to give students the opportunity to show their support for students at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students were killed in a mass shooting on Feb. 14, as well as push for stricter gun control laws.

Middletown Area School District

Middletown is describing events at the middle and high schools as a “walkout,” although students in neither case are expected to be leaving the school building property.

At the middle school, students who wish to participate will at 2 p.m. go out into the hallway and stand shoulder to shoulder with their classmates, as 17 chimes ring in memory of victims of the Parkland school shooting.

READ MORE:  Middletown Area School District leadership silences students on walkout: Letter to the Editor

Students will then return to their classrooms where they can sign a banner pledging their support to stop bullying and violence. The banners will be hung in the middle school lobby.

At 9:50 a.m. at the high school, students participating in the walkout will walk out into the courtyard located within the high school. They will listen to student leaders read a statement, and then all will stand silently for 17 minutes in memory of the Parkland victims.

Student participation in either event is “strictly voluntary,” Middletown district Superintendent Lori Suski said in a letter posted on the school district website raiderweb.org.

“Our top priority is to support the academic, social and emotional needs of our students while maintaining a safe and orderly learning environment for all,” Suski wrote. “We respect and support the right of our students to discuss appropriate and creative ways to do so while at school.”

Plans for the two events were developed by students working with principals and staff at the school building level, Suski noted in her letter.

The school board approved both events during the board’s March 6 meeting, after the board and administrators were briefed by middle school Principal Kevin Cook and high school Principal Michael Carnes.

At the high school, students in order to be allowed to walk out into the courtyard must first write a handwritten letter to state Rep. Tom Mehaffie, stating their thoughts on school safety and why they are participating in the walkout.

High school administration “reserves the right to screen letters before they are mailed to ensure appropriate content,” Suski said in her letter.

For students who may not be “comfortable” walking out, Suski suggested two other ways for how these students can show their support for the Parkland students.

Students can buy a T-shirt and wear it to school on March 14. Proceeds from sale of the $10 T-shirts will be sent to the Stoneman Douglas High School to help provide mental health support services for the students there.

Students also can sign a student-drafted resolution that the students hope to present to Mehaffie and the rest of the state Legislature at the state capitol.

The resolution focuses on the need for improved school safety and mental health services across Pennsylvania, according to Suski’s letter.

The student-drafted resolution “focuses on mental health, it doesn’t focus on guns,” Carnes said during his March 6 presentation. “It focuses on mental health services for high school kids. I was very proud of the angle they decided to take. They really have something they can stand behind that can truly had an influence on. This isn’t about guns. This is about how we treat (and help) each other.”

“They did a phenomenal job,” Suski said during the March 6 meeting of the students. “We put it in their hands. I said to the principals, ‘We need to be proactive to find out what we are going to do. I did not want to be faced with March 14 not knowing what that was going to look like.’”

Lower Dauphin School District

Lower Dauphin Middle School students plan to write letters to legislators on March 14.

Superintendent Robert Schultz wrote a notice to both middle and high school parents regarding the student protests. He said the middle school students will be allowed to write letters during the appointed protest time — 10-10:17 a.m.

“We’re going to let them express their first amendment rights in a controlled fashion, and then back to class,” community relations coordinator Jim Hazen said.

Hazen said the idea for the letter writing campaign did not come from a specific student group. He said some students approached the principal and said they want to write letters on March 14.

“It’s meaningful,” Hazen said of the letter writing campaign. “If they stand in front of the building, no one is going to see them. A couple of dozen letters to their legislators may actually have more of an impact.”

The letter writing campaign to legislators is the only planned event of which administrators are aware.

“We haven’t heard a whole lot from the high school on what they’re planning to do,” Hazen said.

Hazen said administrators are making accommodations if students do intend to walk out of the school.

Schultz said in the notice that the district has an obligation to ensure student safety and supervision. Students leaving their classrooms and gathering outside raises safety concerns, Schultz wrote.

“It is our belief that the safest place for students is in the classroom,” Schultz wrote in a notice to middle school parents. He continued that both middle and high school students have expressed intent in participating in a peaceful demonstration.

Hazen said the district planned to have police presence during the morning at both schools. The driveways will be closed from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. Visitors should go through Door 10.

“We’re allowing the protest under controlled conditions. If they don’t abide by those conditions, there could be disciplinary actions,” Hazen said.

If students intend to peacefully demonstrate on March 14, administrators said they should do so during 10-10:17 a.m.

In the notice, Schultz said participating students should leave the classroom in an orderly manner and immediately return to class at the end of the 17 minutes.