At 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, St. Helens High School (SHHS) and St. Helens Middle School (SHMS) students will walk out in solidarity with a national movement planned in the wake of the Parkland, Fla. shooting.
“At St. Helens High School, we have experienced three shooting threats and five students getting arrested,” student organizer and sophomore Anastasia Lantzsch said. “I have noticed in our school that a lot of students do not feel safe, so they have resorted to not even coming to school or switching to a different school.”
Lantzsch stressed that Wednesday’s walkout was not about gun control – the emphasis would be on school safety. “We’re trying to focus on an issue that we can actually help and try to fix,” she said.
Among the things students are walking for, Lantzsch cited flaws in the safety of the high school campus. They want more hall monitors, more councilors on standby to aid students battling mental illness and other issues they are grappling with, and more cameras set up outside the buildings.
Lantzsch said there was cameras set up in Building A, but the placement of the cameras gets fewer and further between among the other three buildings. Students were also advocating for more locked doors.
“We’re such a diverse campus; we have four different buildings, and there’s a pathway to each building that is totally open and anything can happen in those spaces,” Lantzsch said. “Once someone goes into our school, no one stops them. We have two hall monitors for all four buildings and nobody stops anyone to ask them questions.”
Lantzsch posted a digital poster announcing the walkout to social media and initially received some harsh criticism. “We are raising sheep,” one commenter said.
“Zero life experience, eats tide pods and now is going to tell America how to live,” another commenter responded. “Go get a real job and some life experience first. What a total joke.”
Lantzsch said due to the responses in the beginning, she felt like giving up and deleting the post, but as it kept progressing, she felt a responsibility to her fellow students that don’t have a voice. “So, I kept it up and I read all the comments because I wanted to adjust to our community’s terms, but also still be able to support the students,” Lantzsch said. Eventually, support from adults in the community began to roll in.
“Sorry for the negative feedback that you are receiving from people who should be acting like adults,” another commenter said. “I commend you for your insistence that the schools do more to keep you safe.”
Lantzsch said those were the kind of responses they needed to hear. “We need that support from the adults to help us keep on going,” she said.
The student organizers were required to inform the administration of their intentions to walk out. School officials issued a letter to the district and their families on Tuesday morning, detailing how they would handle the situation.
“As you know, the recent tragedy in Florida, as well as too many others, has elevated the national discussion around school violence and school safety,” Superintendent Scot Stockwell said in the letter. “As educators, we welcome this conversation; however, we are also mindful of the fact that it can generate controversy as various contributing factors and potential solutions are discussed.”
Stockwell reinforced the district’s “absolute commitment” to ensuring the safety and security of their students, staff and schools. He said they take every report of a safety concern seriously, and that officials do investigate and take additional steps when necessary. “Many of those actions will not be apparent to others due to our legal obligation to maintain confidentiality, but please be absolutely assured that we would not keep a student in our school or hold school if we believed the student posed a credible threat,” Stockwell said.
As a district, Stockwell said, they are neither encouraging nor discouraging students to participate, and the district recognizes that students retain the right to freedom of speech and expression, within certain boundaries, while at school.
Stockwell said if students do walk out, they and their parents or guardians should know the following:
● Staff members who are providing supervision will be focusing on keeping students safe and on campus. Schools simply do not have the staff to manage or force a check-out system with students.
● Attendance will be taken after the walkout so we have a record of students who did not return to class.
● If students leave campus, we may not be able to provide supervision, so it is extremely important that students remain on school grounds.
● Students will not be disciplined for their participation as long as they remain safe, respectful, and responsible, and act in a manner that is not disruptive to the school environment.
● If students do not show up for school or return to class, or if they leave campus, their attendance record will reflect an unexcused absence, which may generate an automated phone call home.
When the students walk out, they will walk to a field in front of the library where Lantzsch and four other people will introduce themselves and speak about why they’re staging the walkout. The speeches will be followed by 17 minutes of silence in honor of the Parkland, Florida shooting victims.
“We just want to feel safe in this environment. This is where children go and learn, where they have their safe place and their happy place, and to have this fear and these threats to our school … it’s not the environment they should be growing up in,” Lantzsch said. “Yes, we’re minors. We might not be able to vote right now, but this is something we strongly believe in.”