Rather than walkout, WHS students plan remembrance for school shooting victims

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Whitefish High School

Whitefish High School students will take time on Wednesday, March 14 to remember the victims of a recent shooting at a Florida high school.

The Whitefish Student Council has organized a commemoration for the victims of the shooting, along with an emphasis on all school shootings that have happened in the U.S. They won’t, however, be participating in a countrywide “walkout” planned for that day.

Zach Ade, WHS Student Council member, contacted the Pilot saying he wanted to spread the word about the school’s plan in lieu of recent walkouts happening around the country.

“We are doing something equally as powerful and important,” he told the Pilot via email. “We are spending a time period during the day (17 minutes in fact) to hold a commemoration for the victims of the Florida shooting.”

March 14 is the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A walkout at 10 a.m. of 17 minutes — one minute to honor each victim of the shooting — has been called for across the country by the Women’s March Youth Empower #Enough National School Walkout initiative.

Rather than walkout on Wednesday, Ade said, Whitefish students plan to read off the names of the victims, along with playing a slideshow about them and lighting candles in their honor.

Whitefish High School Principal Kerry Drown said school staff have been advising students as they organize the ceremony, but noted that it’s a “school-supported” event rather than sponsored by the school. He said the event will not be open to the public.

“We kept participation by students as voluntary because we wanted to be sure that the [student council] supported and recognized all individuals’ points of view,” he said. “This is by and for the students.”

Afterwards during lunch, students who want to will be allowed to gather to draft a letter to Montana’s Congressional representatives and the state Legislature, Ade said, noting that he is proud of his school for the ceremony it has planned.

“I believe it is going to have an impact and be something we as a school system, student body, and community can be 100 [percent] proud of,” he said.

Drown said he couldn’t speak to the content of the letters specifically, but that student organizers did express that they wanted to be able to advocate their viewpoints to legislators. “We wanted students to have a forum to express that as long as they are not disruptive to instructional time and it’s is on their own time,” Drown said.

Drown said the school wanted to be proactive in its approach regarding a potential walkout and rather than prohibiting students from organizing an event work with them to use it as a teaching moment.

“We wanted to identify that students truly do have an interest in this,” he said. “This generation has made a big effort to get some attention on this. We wanted to allow them to use and practice democracy while also allowing them to feel empowerment.”

In addition to the Wednesday ceremony, school staff is expected to speak with students during the week about the safety measures in place at the school in case of an incident involving an intruder, and ask for their input on ways to make the school safer.

“Hopefully this will give the students clarity and feel empowered,” Drown said.

Students who do choose to walk out during the school day will be subject to the school’s regular attendance policy, Drown noted. Any unexcused absence from school results in the student serving one hour of Saturday detention for each class period missed, according to the student handbook.

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