Two board of education members have called for a special meeting tonight at the Stow-Munroe Falls High School, 3227 E. Graham Road, at 7 p.m. regarding the planned student walkout tomorrow.
The meeting will be in the high school auditorium.
Board members Geraldine Bettio and Jason Whitacre called for the meeting. Both board members, as well as school board member Kelly Toppin, all said at the board’s work session last 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.
Dr. Jeffrey Hartmann, the high school principal, said the student leaders organizing the event wanted to go outside. Hartmann said the students planned to walk out 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 said 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.
"I think this is a tremendous opportunity for our students," Hartmann said. "Many will turn 18 in a year, a year and a half. Learning to be an active citizen is a good lesson."
Hartmann said that school administrators and local police will be outside to make sure students stay safe. The building teachers will stay inside to supervise the students who do not wish to participate. Once the students participating in the walkout come back inside, the teachers will go over several talking points with them, such as why did they participate, and what did they learn from the experience.
However, Bettio said she felt the students should instead go to the gym if they wish to participate.
"Why do they have to go outside?" she asked.
She added that she understood "where the kids are coming from and their fear that this could happen at our school."
"But they are still children," Bettio said. "Their right is to go to class and get an education."
Whitacre said he felt the walkout "has the potential to violate 12 to 14 policies." He said that according to policy, controversial issues such as this should be education-related.
"I’m very supportive of the kids involved," Whitacre said. "I think they are rightfully outraged. The stuff they are thinking and saying they have a right to be thinking and saying. We’ve had too many cases where a deranged individual came into what is supposed to be a secure building. However, I’m afraid for their safety. I’m afraid for our children and our police."
Board President Lisa Johnson-Bowers said she felt this was education-related. Also, she added that Whitacre’s concerns were run by the district’s legal advisers and the legal team felt there was no violation. Whitacre responded he felt not all issues were addressed in the legal opinion.
Board member David Licate said he felt in the administration got too heavy-handed with this, "there would be a riot."
"Policy is excellent in ordinary times," Licate said. "But this is an extreme situation, but it’s also educational."
Licate said that politicizing the issue "from any angle is reprehensible."
"As they have indicated to us, they want a memorial," Licate said. "Dead children are not a political issue." He said he had children in the district, and he did not want to tell the students "they do not have a voice."
Toppin said he, too, had a child in the district.
"As a parent, I’m scared," Toppin said. "I think we dropped the ball on this one. We should have been having talks with the students a long time ago. How long ago was Columbine?"
Superintendent Tom Bratten said that in his 27 years he has "never seen anything like this."
"I have never seen a group of kids as motivated like this," Bratten said. He added that he agreed there needed to be further talks in case there was another national movement.
Hartmann agreed regarding the students’ organization.
"I’ve never seen the students so galvanized," he said.
Several people came to the worksession; they were not allowed to speak during the meeting but a few were vocal about their unhappiness with the decision to let the students go outside after the meeting was over.
"Mr. Whitacre is correct in stating the law of this council, and that should stand," said Mary Mumper, a former teacher. "The safety of our children should be top priority."
Joanne Gross said that if school violence were to be addressed, that adults "need to teach children to respect, and know there are consequences." The schools have come to replace family in many situations she said, due to a bad home life and other factors. Schools, she said, have taken on roles they weren’t meant to.
"They should be in the classroom learning," Gross said, "not outside protesting. Talk to another kid, be a friend to them."
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC