On March 14, high school students around the country plan to walk out of their classrooms to demand more restrictive gun laws.
In Madison, after walking out of school, many students plan to keep walking to the state Capitol for a rally. While the walkout is not sponsored or endorsed by any school districts, several officials are announcing their respect for the students' right to protest and are allowing parents and guardians to excuse absences.
"We are incredibly proud of the young people, both nationally and here in Madison, who have raised their voices about gun control and their right to be safe at school. Our district stands with our students as they demand action,” said Jennifer Cheatham, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District.
The Women’s March Youth EMPOWER group is organizing the walkout “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.” The 17-minute protest in honor of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting will start at 10 a.m. local time across the country.
Local students have already thrust themselves into the gun control debate, speaking at a press conference before a session of the state Assembly and calling for gun control measures including universal background checks. The Assembly rejected a universal background check proposal, but provided funds for armed school guards and banned “straw” gun purchases.
“Why aren’t we being protected?” Lydia Hester, a sophomore at Madison East High School said at the press conference. “We have been fed up for years but the Florida shooting was the last straw. We need stronger laws to protect us.”
Hester is one of several students from Madison East, La Follette, West and Memorial High Schools helping to organize the rally at the Capitol. They’re organizing carpools, hosting fundraisers to pay for bus fares and lining up speakers for Wednesday.
The plan is for Madison students to gather at East High School. They'll leave East at noon and walk two miles up East Washington Avenue to the Capitol for a 1 p.m. rally.
According to a student pamphlet, the rally’s demands include universal background checks, banning bump stocks, limiting magazine capacity, more accessible gun safety training and a 21-year-old minimum age to buy rifles and assault weapons. Dija Manly, an organizer from La Follette, said the group is trying to deliver a focused message, "prioritizing the fact that we want to feel safe when we go to school."
On the event’s Facebook page, organizers have encouraged adults and students from other schools to participate. The Wisconsin Council of Churches wrote a letter calling on their members to join the event.
Here’s a look at how area school districts are planning for the protest:
Madison Metropolitan School District
School principals are working with student leaders to organize in-school events for the protest, which may include walking out for 17 minutes, Cheatum wrote. If students choose to leave school premises and participate in the rally, parents can excuse their children, but the event is not school-sponsored.
That means students will not be supervised by school staff, said Rachel Strauch-Nelson, MMSD spokeswoman, so “we want to make sure that families can talk with their student about participating.”
Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District
According to a letter to district families from Superintendent George Mavroulis, MCPASD high school students are planning to walk out and hold a program at Fireman’s Park next to Middleton High School from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. Some students may then join the Capitol rally.
"Generally speaking, we view student protest as a choice among students. We understand their desire to have a voice and to engage in civic and social discussions. Each student and family must decide for themselves," Mavroulis wrote.
Classes will continue as normal, and parents and guardians have been asked to “follow normal attendance procedures to excuse students who plan to participate.” Middleton police and school staff will be at the park to "ensure the safety of all."
Sun Prairie Area School District
Superintendent Brad Saron's letter to families says guardians are allowed to excuse students from class for the walkout.
"As educators, we want students in class. If a walkout does occur, our schools and classes will continue on their normal schedule for students who choose not to participate," it reads. "We understand that some students may decide to exercise their First Amendment rights and thereby express their views on this topic. Our goal is to provide a safe environment for all students."
School staff may supervise students as they leave the buildings, and school resource officers will be onsite, the letter said.
Verona Area School District
The VASD letter to families from Superintendent Dean Gorrell said the district is aware of middle and high school students' intent to participate in the 17-minute walkout. Parents can excuse absences, but the letter is very clear that the district is not endorsing the walkout.
"We understand that some students may choose to exercise their First Amendment rights by walking out. Similarly, we recognize that other students may prefer to stay in class. We are hearing that some students are being pressured by classmates to participate and that is making some students very uncomfortable," it reads.
Staff will supervise students as necessary and local law enforcement will be onsite "not to intimidate participants or attempt to quash the walkout, but instead to help provide security."