Student Plan for Walkout Changes; Student Safety Cited as Priority

Logan Shanafelt, Social Media Editor

Following the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, Florida where 17 people were killed, school walkouts have started to become organized.

Emma Smith, a sophomore at Lake Fenton High School, has put together a Twitter page (@LKFNWALKOUT), and is hoping to have the school participate in the nationwide walkout on Friday, April 20 – the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

When asked what the goal for the walkout was, Smith responded, “I am hoping to give students information on the walkout, so that it is just not confusion when everybody is walking out of their classroom… [and] if they should walk out of their classroom, I want to make sure that students know what to do and where to go and inform them so they just don’t stay back because they don’t know what’s going on.”

In response to concerns from the administration about the safety of students during the walkout, Smith agreed to alter the plan, with the walkout occurring in an organized fashion in the commons.

On March 16, the walkout Twitter page tweeted, “Instead of walking out on April 20 we will be staying inside – we are still doing the walkout, but it is in the building. This is only because of safety concerns, and I hope anyone who was planning on walking out will still attend!!!” (Twitter @LKFNWALKOUT)

“I think that the choices that were made did end up working out well, but it did change a lot from my original plan.” Smith considers this “ as more of a write-in than a walkout.”

But what did administration have to say about the walkout?

Chris Belcher, Lake Fenton High School Principal, stated that student safety is always the most important thing in any school.

“Obviously right now, the last 15 years have been difficult and I think schools everywhere need to ramp up their efforts to improve safety, as scary as that is.”

In February, when first asked about his thoughts on the walkout and if students could receive any consequences for participating, Belcher said this was a difficult question.

“On the one hand I fully support our students trying to stand up for something that matters; I think that’s an extremely important part for being a citizen in our country. At the same time, we have to make sure that we’re doing it appropriately. Freedom of speech is a very important thing. How the law is written, students have freedom of speech, as long as it does not interfere or cause a disruption to the school process…”

In a follow-up interview, Belcher said he met with county principals on Friday, March 2 to discuss the student walkouts, answers, and how to support the students while ensuring safety at the same time.

“The one thing that was absolutely stressed to us was the importance of a school remaining neutral. We can’t back any type of political agenda whatsoever… My priority is to keep our students safe, and to not disrupt what’s happening. What we have talked about doing… the students that want to participate, coming down to the commons. We will have tables set up where they can write a letter to a local politician for whatever way that they feel. My assumption is, everyone supports school safety, but some people are making this about more than student safety.”

Belcher said that addresses to these politicians and envelopes to send letters will be provided.

“I think the walkout, when it originated, the thought behind it was to walk out and march directly to a local politician to show unity and to show power. I am not sure what walking out and sitting in front of a high school does… I get if people are leaving and going to a local politician and saying, ‘We want change now!’ That’s gonna do something. But every kid just walking out of the building and standing there, I’m not sure what that does.”