STOW — The Stow-Munroe Falls Board of Education passed 3-2 a resolution that stated that students should stay put in their classrooms and not participate in the planned walkout Wednesday during a meeting called Tuesday at the Stow-Munroe Falls High School auditorium.
The resolution states "that students should remain in their classroom or other designated area of the school building for the anticipated walkout, and observe 17 minutes of silence. The remainder of the day should proceed as the normal daily schedule."
However, the resolution does not prohibit the walkout nor spell out any disciplinary action if students participate.
Dr. Jeffrey Hartmann, high school principal, said the school will be "prepared for student safety tomorrow," and that he still anticipates a walkout.
At the board’s work session on Monday night, Hartmann said that the student leaders organizing the event wanted to go outside, to show their solidarity with other students participating across the nation in the walkout and to remember the 17 killed in Parkland, Fla., as well as other school shootings. He added the students planned to read the names of the schools who had experienced a school shooting tragedy, along with the number of those killed. The students also plan to have a balloon release.
Hartmann said that media would be staged away from the students, in the new student parking lot, and would not have access to those walking out.
About 40 to 50 people watched Tuesday’s brief meeting, a mix of students, parents, teachers and residents. The public was not invited to comment during the roughly 15-minute meeting.
Board members Geraldine Bettio and Jason Whitacre called for the meeting and voted for the resolution. Both board members, as well as school board member Kelly Toppin, who also voted for the resolution, said at the board’s work session Monday night that they disagreed with the high school students leaving the school building, citing concerns such as violation of school policy to worries over safety.
"We don't want to squash the students' voice," Toppin said during Tuesday's meeting. "My concern is the safety issue. As a parent, I look at security as a top priority. I know that Cuyahoga Falls and Hudson schools and other local districts have events planned outside. My child does not go to those districts. Students should voice their opinions, but they should do it inside."
Board President Lisa Johnson-Bowers and Dave Licate both voted against the resolution.
"I respect your opinions and I believe your motives are pure," Licate said during the meeting. "I know this has divided the community, and I'm hoping we can come together and find common ground."
Johnson-Bowers said she felt the board was missing an opportunity for education.
"It's like having a chemistry class, and having a simulated lab on a computer when you have a room with lab equipment," she said. "I'm immensely disappointed for the student and the hours they put into organizing this, and the hours put in by the administration and police."
After the meeting, Johnson-Bowers said she was proud of the students.
"I am so proud of the kids, the leaders at the high school," she said. "They took the initiative to create an event of solidarity, where they are saying 'no more, we're done, we are tired of this.'"
Bettio said in a phone interview after the meeting that several of the board's policies are being violated with the walkout.
"Our board policy states what they can and cannot do," she said. "I'm not trying to micromanage the district, but it is our job to make sure that the rules are kept. The kids are going to do what they are going to do, and I'll leave it to the administrators to do what they have to do. People should adhere to the policies."
Several students who attended the meeting said they were disappointed with the board's decision.
"I am disappointed in how our board members represented us tonight," said senior Jacy Guider, 18. "I thought they'd better represent what the students wanted."
"I feel the students have a right to voice our opinion in a peaceful manner and a safe manner," said senior Moriah Payne, 17. "By denying that right, it takes away our chance to participate in our political system."
Junior Brandon Justice, 16, said he felt the school board "did the opposite of what they wanted to accomplish."
"This will make it less safe," Justice said. "The walkout will still happen. They have turned this into a student-versus-administration situation, and we were trying to avoid that."
Sophomore Jenna Madgar, 16, said that just because students stayed inside, it didn't make them more safe.
"I think the shootings have proved that staying inside isn't safe at all," she said.
"All of us have been told to go to one place," said Kaitlyn Kriska, 14, of the school safety drills, several of which require students to go outside, she added. "If they can't keep us safe in school, what does it matter if we go outside? We've been told to stand up for what is right since we were little, and how that we have, it's been shot down."
Trina Poole, the high school's AP government teacher, said that the school's mission statement is to "make a difference in the world."
"I'm proud of what they are doing," Poole said. "They are actually trying to make a difference."
James Cossey, Kaitlyn's stepfather and a Stow resident, said he wasn't sure he agreed what his stepdaughter and the students were walking out for, but supported their efforts.
"I'm not even sure I know what their message is," he said. "I'm not sure I'd even agree with it, but that's not the point. They should have the chance to get their voice out."
Munroe Falls officials address walkouts
During the Munroe Falls City Council meeting Tuesday night, Munroe Falls Police Department School Resource Officer Lonny Gable reviewed his department's plan for a potential student walkout at Kimpton Middle School. A plan coordinated between police and school officials is in place to allow students a "safe exit and a safe entry [back into the school]," said Gable.
Munroe Falls Police Chief Jerry Hughes said after the meeting that while his department has only heard rumors of a walkout at Kimpton, his department is prepared just in case students decide to participate.
In Tuesday's meeting, City Council member Chris Ritzinger said that while all parents "want to make sure our kids are safe," he noted "if kids want to get involved with that, and they want their voices heard, they want to unify, it's OK to teach them that, too. It's kind of a tough spot to be in."
Hughes said he's heard from parents on both sides regarding the walkout.
Hughes noted the parents who favor their children doing the walkout say that the students are "showing maturity. They're voicing their opinion on a current matter that involves them and that's good."
The chief said the students have "impressed" him and noted they are not taking a specific political side.
"They're saying, 'this is our-age children getting killed," said Hughes. "They're not protesting. They want their feelings known. I don't blame them."
"It's also one of those unique situations that, regardless of your political ideology, you have something to point at, it's a failure of the system," added Mayor James Armstrong.
Council President John Hegnauer agreed, saying, "everyone believes there is an actual issue with the system … it keeps the discussion open, as well, regardless of how you believe it needs to be fixed."
Reporter Phil Keren contributed to this report.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or ??@AprilKHelms_RPC??