By Heather Galante
Principal, Bedford High School
As I shared in a previous message [to BHS families], the school administration planned to provide a time and space on March 15th to respectfully remember those killed in Parkland, Florida, while fully recognizing that individual students would likely use that time to voice their varied opinions about gun violence. When administration rearranged the Wednesday schedule to insert a break, which we do not typically have on our ¾ days, students communicated with me that our involvement took away the spirit of the walkout being student driven. As a school, however, we knew it was important to honor the victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting and to continue our conversations about maintaining the emotional and physical safety of our staff and students. I know all would agree that there should be an expectation of safety when our students and staff enter school.
As you all know, we had a snow day on March 14th. Student walkouts happened across the nation. After viewing the news and various social media outlets, it was clear that the walkout was political in nature. I received emails from parents reminding me of just that. Though we encourage civic participation and believe in the power of student voice, the school must remain nonpartisan when it comes to political matters. So on March 15th, acknowledging the heightened political context and the students’ wishes not to have their political expression confused with the school’s remembrance, the school chose not to hold a memorial commemoration but to honor the victims lost in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting with a morning announcement and moment of silence.
On March 15th, we did in fact honor the victims lost in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting with a morning announcement, but did not have a special break to walk to the football field. Instead, during our regular break time, students engaged in their own remembrance and exercised their first amendment rights appropriately. Our students clearly wanted to take a political stand. All viewpoints were represented and students were courageous on all fronts. The event was safe, well organized and allowed our students to “own” the event, which they felt had been commandeered by adults, both in and outside of our school. Regardless of political affiliation, it was inspiring to see the passion and compassion in our students.
There were many students who chose not to participate for various reasons. There was adult presence in our main entrance, outside, in the front and back cafeteria, in all hallways and in the guidance department. Students who exited the building were welcomed back in. They were not locked out as has been recently erroneously alleged. Our doors lock automatically during the school day and any person who enters after the start of school needs to be buzzed in. The demonstration coincided with our break period and did not disrupt the school day. Students did not receive consequences for participating in the event.
While some students left class 10 minutes early, and some left the building, actions that typically would trigger a disciplinary consequence, we decided in this instance not to do so given the unique context that these two days created- specifically that the school had planned to provide an approved time for a remembrance on the football field just the day before. However, we will communicate with our student organizers and with the whole student body, that future acts of civil disobedience (actions that disrupt learning or conflict with school rules) will engender consequences regardless of the political point of view being expressed. This is not to stifle student expression, many forms of which need not be disruptive, nor is it to try to prevent civil disobedience, an act that has a long and important tradition in America’s democracy. Rather, as educators, we must set clear expectations about not disrupting school and all students’ education, Additionally, as has always been the nature of personal sacrifice for one’s belief, the understanding that breaking rules or laws typically involves consequences.
Our underlying belief is to empower our students to make their own choices, to ensure their safety, and support their decisions. There is no doubt that this issue has become polarizing in our society. As public school educators, our focus is to create a safe and supportive space for all of our students regardless of their opinions on this issue.
We continue to work hard to ensure that we are utilizing the best possible procedures to maximize our students’ safety in an unthinkable situation and to provide social/emotional support for all of our students. Ensuring that our students feel safe at all times in our schools remains a top priority.
Thank you, as always, for being our partners in the process of educating and supporting our students.