WATERVILLE — The Waterville Board of Education on Wednesday chose not to vote on whether to approve allowing students to walk out of the school March 14 for 17 minutes as part of a nationwide, student-led event.

Eric Haley, superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, said the administration recommended the students be allowed to hold the student-initiated event to promote a ban on assault-type guns.

The 17-minute protest is being held in commemoration of the 17 students and staff killed in a shooting Feb. 21 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Students at Waterville Junior High School plan to hold a similar event, Principal Carole Dodge announced Wednesday.

Students who want to walk out of the high school may do so, but those who do not may stay in class, where the teachers will continue teaching. After the walkout, a schoolwide assembly will be held in the high school to talk about school safety and student resilience, according to high school Principal Brian Laramee.

School board member Julian Payne said Monday that if the board allows students to walk out for the event March 14, it sets a precedent for future walkouts and the board should approve every walkout planned in the future. He said he has had calls from some parents saying their children do not believe in the walkout but are afraid about how they will be perceived if they don’t participate. Payne said he is not “totally opposed” to the march but does not think the board should be making a decision.

“If they vote for this, I’m going to vote for every single march that comes across the desk afterward,” he said.

After a lengthy decision about the walkout Wednesday night at the board meeting, held at the Mid-Maine Technical Center Mid-Day Cafe, Payne asked if the board would vote on whether to approve the walkout. He was told a board vote is not needed.

“If it’s not a board vote, then this is solely Eric’s approval?” he asked.

Haley said the board has the right to vote on anything members want to vote on. He said he wanted to make sure the board knew what the event was and that it was student-led.

“So, it’s not a board decision. It’s an administrative decision,” Payne said.

“It could be a board decision,” Haley replied.

Payne then addressed his fellow board members: “Does anyone on the board choose to vote on it or is everyone OK with it?”

Board members nodded their heads, indicating they did not plan to vote.

Haley had said earlier in the week that everyone wants to ensure that students and staff are working together to make sure students are included and feel productive and part of his or her school, as one thing that has come out of school shootings is that the majority of shooters have been students who are disengaged from school and do not feel a part of it.

“We’re using it as a teachable moment,” Haley said and reiterated that statement at the board meeting.

Students have the right to their First Amendment, whether it’s political or not, according to Haley.

Educators have limited First Amendment rights and cannot say they are against free gun ownership while they are working, according to Haley, who said schools have to be careful and not allow the staff to take a position and proselytize. However, educators may work with students on student-led and initiated events to help make it a teachable moment, according to Haley.

The student-led walkout was initiated by a student who has participated in Seeds of Peace, Haley said, adding that that organization emphasizes student activism and being involved in issues. Seeds of Peace brings young leaders together from across lines of division to foster understanding and help resolve conflict.

Meanwhile, Mayor Nick Isgro weighed in on the issue earlier in the week, saying he does not believe it is the role of schools to promote political viewpoints and he has heard from some parents who say they are worried that their children might be ostracized if they opt out of the walkout. He said schools should focus on helping to make students feel safe, reaching out to those who feel ostracized and ensuring schools are places where people feel welcome and safe.

School administrators talked at length Wednesday about what is being done not only to help ensure schools are safe, but also to talk to students and staff members who are feeling anxious and stressed about school safety and let them know that there are people available to talk with them. Part of the overall safety plan is making sure to reach out to those who seem aloof or feeling left out.

Board member Pam Trinward congratulated Laramee and others for what they are doing to plan for safe schools and support students and staff.

“Congrats to you for doing such a good job,” she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 

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