Local school districts, like Palmyra-Eagle and Whitewater Unified, are sending letters to parents and families in regards to the planned national walkout on Wednesday. (Ryan Spoehr photo)

By Ryan Spoehr

With a national walkout planned for Wednesday at schools across the country, local districts are distributing letters to families.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, students, teachers and staff at schools across the country may walk out in protest of inaction by Congress on gun laws and gun violence in schools. It will be the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month.

The Whitewater Unified and Palmyra-Eagle school districts have joined the list of schools around the state allowing students to walk out if they have permission from parents or guardians. However, neither is endorsing the walkout publicly.

District administrators for each district have sent out letters electronically regarding the upcoming walkout.

“Please know that we highly value our strong partnerships with our students, families and community,” Whitewater Unified District Administrator Mark Elworthy wrote. “Safety has always been our first priority and is critical for learning to occur. Safety in Whitewater is a mindset where staff and students have been provided options to address safety concerns. It is not a script. Staff have been regularly trained and empowered to make decisions in the best interest of students.”

Palmyra-Eagle District Administrator Steve Bloom also encouraged safety in a letter sent out Friday.

“Please be mindful that some issues can create strong emotions and there may be opposing views of the issue,” Bloom wrote.

Both district administrators encouraged families to have conversations with their children about the topic, and if questions arise, students and families may contact school administration in their community.

Bloom wrote that per School Board policy, the district supports expression of opinions on any given topic.

Guidelines and policies
National speculation surrounding the walkout has touched upon teachers, and other staff members may also participate in the walkout.

In his letter, Bloom cited Palmyra-Eagle policy 2240 titled “Controversial Issues in the Classroom,” which states that some controversial issues may be allowed to be explored in classrooms depending on if they apply to classes.

Bloom also cited district administrative guideline 3231A, titled “Participation in Political Activities.”

That policy states, “Non-school related activities, including political activities, do not contribute to a positive learning climate and may be disruptive, divisive and distracting. Therefore, such activities are not appropriate within the school setting. It is the intention of the School Board to regulate such activities on all board owned or used property, within all school buildings and at all school-sponsored activities.”

“Employees who intend to participate in any type of political activity during the regularly scheduled school day should speak with their direct supervisor to determine the process for a request for a personal leave to do so,” Bloom wrote.

Elworthy said policies are in place in the Whitewater district regarding teachers expressing political views in the school setting.

“I have communicated with our union leader about that,” Elworthy said.

In both districts, students walking out of class will be subject to consequences under attendance rules in each district.

“If you decide to excuse your child from class to participate in a walkout, please contact the attendance office to excuse the absence in advance,” Elworthy wrote. “Following our attendance policy, students who leave class without parent permission will be considered unexcused for that time period.”

Bloom wrote that parents have every right to excuse their children from school for an entire day or a portion of any school day.

“If the excuse is for participation in an organized political activity, the student shall be deemed excused from school for either a half day or full day of school depending upon the length of their absence,” Bloom wrote. “No student so excused would be able to be present on school grounds during the time of the parental-excused absence to participate individually or collectively in any activity organized or sanctioned by an outside organization or group. The district will adhere to previously established procedures and protocols for unexcused student absences from school.”

Bloom wrote that an unexcused absence during this time would be subject and if warranted, action would be taken on a case-by-case basis. It may, Bloom wrote, have an adverse effect on final exam exemption status or truancy reports may be filed if students have a history of attendance issues.

With safety being a common theme for both districts regarding the walkout, Palmyra Public Safety Director James Small said he and his officers are aware of the national walkout and will respond if needed, but he does not expect that need to arise.

“We’ll have our normal patrol that day,” Small said.

Earlier this month, after word of the walkout spread, colleges and universities around the state and nation released public statements that they would not hold high school suspensions related to the walkout against students trying to earn admission to their schools. Among those were the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ripon College and Marquette University.


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