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Students planning walkout over school shootings

Tristin Schlief (left) and Danielle Carver (right) are two of the Alexandria Area High School students taking part in a school walkout to pay their respects to the victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. (Beth Leipholtz / Echo Press)1 / 2
Julie Critz2 / 2

Some students at Alexandria Area High School are planning to partake in a walkout Wednesday to make a statement about school shootings and advocate for change.

It is part of a nationwide effort led by Women's March Youth Empower to bring attention to gun violence in schools after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead.

The high school students in Alexandria plan to walk out of school at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 14, for 17 minutes — one minute for each Parkland victim.

Superintendent Julie Critz said, "The school district is not endorsing or planning a walkout at all," but also said parents can excuse a student as part of a "learning experience."

Danielle Carver and Tristin Schlief are two students who plan to participate.

"A lot of kids are in on it and agreed it would be respectful to do so," Carver said. "We're just going to walk out to the football field and give silence to those who were killed."

Participating in the walkout could count as an unexcused absence — unless a student has parent permission, according to Critz.

"Our attendance policy would allow a parent to excuse a child for a learning experience or a learning event," she said. "A parent would have to write a note or call in. We don't excuse everything ... but we do allow a parent to excuse for a learning experience which is what we would deem this to be if a parent felt that that's what it was."

Critz says the high school administration has been working with student council members and student leaders to come up with alternative activities to a walkout.

"They're calling it a kindness day," Critz said, referring to the walkout organizers. "They're thinking a moment of silence at 10 a.m. to memorialize the students whose lives were lost in Florida and making kindness the focus of that day."

Schlief said the organizers believe the walkout is right in order to draw attention to the school shooting issue.

"If we had something happen at our school, I wouldn't want people to brush it off like it's just some news thing," she said. "People died and it's not OK. It's like Sandy Hook. It's never going to be the same there. Even though we're not in Florida, we can still do something about it. ... It can happen anywhere."

Schlief and Carver both say they have brought up the walkout to their parents, who have expressed support.

"My dad said he doesn't mind because if I'm passionate about it, I should speak up about it," Carver said.

According to a media release from the school district, "Alexandria Public Schools supports students' rights to free speech and peaceful assembly, so long as doing so is not disruptive and is done in accordance with district policy." The release states that in the event of a walkout, students may receive an unexcused absence. It also states that staff members will make sure students leave the building in an orderly fashion and that students who remain in the building have a stable learning environment.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, schools typically can discipline students for missing class during an event such as a walkout or protest. What they cannot do is discipline students "more harshly because they are walking out to express a political view or because school administrators don't support the views behind the protest." In simpler terms, the students cannot be punished for the content of the protest.

Alexandria students are not the only Minnesota students making a statement. Students in Bemidji are planning to take part in 17 acts of kindness that day, as well as potentially host a safety forum on April 5.

"We feel this is a more productive and professional way to discuss concerns, have our

students' voices heard, AND to listen to them to hear what is currently being legislated at the state level," Bemidji student council members said in a statement on Tuesday, March 6.

Moorhead students are also planning a walkout on March 14, as well as holding a memorial in the gym remembering the victims of the Florida high school shooting and marching to Moorhead City Hall. Students at various schools in the Twin Cities have also participated in walkouts in the weeks since the Parkland shooting.

Dayton announces school safety plan

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday, March 7, announced a plan to provide $15.9 million to address school safety issues.

The proposal also includes an additional $5 million for school-based grants that would provide mental health services for students.

The plan would provide money for building improvements, such as secured entrances and bulletproof glass. Schools also could hire more school resource officers, counselors, or other student support staff.

Dayton's plan also seeks to gather more data on expelled students and offer them more support. The suspect in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting had been expelled from the school.

Beth Leipholtz

Beth is a reporter at the Echo Press. She graduated from the College of Saint Benedict in May 2015 with a degree in Communication and Hispanic Studies. Journalism has always been her passion, but she also enjoys blogging and graphic design. In her spare time, she's most likely at Crossfit or at home with her boyfriend and three dogs.

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