Portland public high school and middle school students will be allowed to participate in the National Walkout on March 14 in response to last month’s high school shootings in Parkland, Florida.

School Superintendent Xavier Botana sent a letter to families and staff Saturday morning informing them that he and the school district’s middle and high school principals will allow students to leave their buildings between 10 and 10:30 a.m. that day to express their views on school safety and violence, regardless of their positions on those issues.

Botana said he and the principals made the decision to allow a “school intermission” based on guidance from the Maine School Management Association. Students indicated they wanted to participate in the walkout on the one-month anniversary of the deaths of 17 students and staff at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

At least one school district in Maine has announced that students who participate on March 14 will be punished. Virginia Rebar, superintendent for School Administrative District 13, which includes Moscow and Bingham, posted a letter on the district’s website this week that said students who take part in the walkout will be marked as “absent without permission” and subject to normal disciplinary procedures.

Rebar said she was following advice of the district’s lawyers. At a special school board meeting she called to discuss the issue, officials raised concerns about safety and giving preference to one ideology over another.

The walkout is being organized by the youth affiliate of the Women’s March, which has listed 1,855 schools across the country as planning to take part.

Botana, who said later Saturday morning he had heard no reaction to his letter from families and staffers, said allowing students to take part was his decision and not a school committee issue.

Botana said students who do not want to participate may stay inside in a supervised area. Students who do participate will be required to stay on school grounds and they will be supervised.

“We are proud that our students are passionate about advocating for their beliefs. They have a powerful voice that can effect change and it is our role as educators to support them as they learn to apply democratic principles in action,” Botana said in his letter.

He said no students will be pressured by the schools to take part.

He said the safety and security of the students and staff is the district’s No. 1 priority.

“Portland Police Department has been alerted of our plans. School support and counseling specialists will be made available to students and staff as needed,” he wrote.

Botana encouraged families to talk with their children about their expectations and participation in the walkout.

He said the principals will send out more information to families about each school’s participation, and families should contact their principals with any questions.

Mayor Ethan Strimling said Saturday he fully supports Botana in the decision.

“It is an important opportunity for our students. There is a lot of emotion in the country about gun violence. We need to hear from all sectors,” Strimling said.

Several Maine colleges, including Bates, Bowdoin and Colby, joined other colleges and universities across the country in announcing that they would not punish applicants who were disciplined for taking part in the walkout.

 

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