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Local schools take different approaches to national walkout day

Pendleton offers “What’s Your 17?” campaign, Hermiston asks students to stay on campus, come back after 17 minutes
Antonio Sierra

East Oregonian

Published on March 12, 2018 8:00PM

Last changed on March 12, 2018 8:01PM

On Wednesday at 10 a.m., students across the country will walk out of classrooms for 17 minutes on the one-month anniversary of one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history.

Local school officials are taking different approaches to the protest.

Pendleton High School Principal Dan Greenough said he met with school staff to discuss the issue last week and devised an alternative activity. On Monday, teachers read a script to students explaining their rationale.

“While we do not want to discourage remembrance activities for the horrific events in Florida, we as a school should promote something that may make a positive difference moving forward,” the script states. “While a walkout brings attention to the situation, it generally has little to no lasting effect. As a replacement for this activity, we are proposing an alternative. What we would like to suggest is that in place of walking out, all students at Pendleton High School take action to promote the feeling of community here in the school.”

As a part of “What’s Your 17?” campaign, students will be shown a video in their classrooms on Wednesday explaining the concept. The campaign encourages students to perform an act of kindness for their classmates every day starting Wednesday and lasting 17 days.

Students are then asked to highlight their good deeds on social media using the #PHSWhatsUR17 hashtag.

If students still feel the need to walk out, Greenough said the school will remain lenient on students who stick to the 17-minute period.

But if students leave longer than 17 minutes or fail to return to class, they will face the usual punishments for an unexcused absence, such as lunch detention.

While some school districts have threatened to suspend students if they participate in the walkout, Greenough said its never been his policy to suspend students for absence issues.

“It flies in the face of the what we’re trying to do in trying to change the behavior,” he said.

The Hermiston School District isn’t proposing an alternative activity for Wednesday, but is proposing some parameters.

Interim Superintendent Tricia Mooney wrote a letter to parents and community members about the district’s response to the walkout.

Mooney wrote that students who choose to walk out on Wednesday will be supervised by school staff. District spokeswoman Maria Duron said students will not continue to be supervised should they decide to leave school grounds.

Although the district is concentrating on potential walkouts at Hermiston High School, Sandstone Middle School and Armand Larive Middle School, elementary school staff is prepared to supervise their students if they walk out as well.

Like Pendleton, Hermiston students will be expected to return to class after 17 minutes. The events are not open to the public and students or community members who want to support the students are being asked to remain off school grounds for safety reasons.

Mooney’s letter included a statement from the Associated Student Body of Hermiston High School.

“We, the Associated Student Body Leadership of HHS, recognize that there needs to be a solution found to end school violence. There are varied opinions and feelings associated with this topic throughout the student body and we believe there is no simple singular solution. What we know is that our students need an opportunity to voice their opinions ... We support our student body in their opinions and ability to express their ideas and concerns in a safe, appropriate, and respectful manner.”

The walkouts are supposed to be a part of a national movement to commemorate the 17 people killed in a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.

According to CNN, the idea originated from EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March. The organization’s website lists more than 2,800 walkouts across the country, although a map of planned walkouts displays no events in Umatilla County or Eastern Oregon.

The national campaign also includes policy demands from Congress, like an assault weapons ban, universal background checks on gun sales and a restraining order law that would allow authorities to disarm people with warning signs of violent behavior.


Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.


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