Headmaster Dennis Manning spoke directly to Upper School students and faculty at the first chapel after spring break about the upcoming March 14 national school walkout.
The walkout is described in the media as having dual aspects. It is, first and foremost, a memorial to the 14 students and three teachers killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; the walkout is to begin at 10 a.m. and end at 10:17 a.m.—a 17-minute span that draws attention to the 17 individuals who died. A second aspect of the walkout is a protest against gun violence in schools.
The idea of the walkout was spearheaded by the youth branch of the Women’s March and has been supported by students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but it is an entirely grassroots event. Schools and school systems across the country are making individual decisions about whether to allow students to take part; some schools are planning alternate events. More than 2,000 schools across the country and internationally will be participating.
Mr. Manning said that students and faculty are allowed to participate in the walkout to respect and honor the victims of the shooting. He emphasized that each student should feel free to make a personal decision without feeling pressured by peers; furthermore, he encouraged students to resist judging one another in regard to participation or a decision not to do so, and to maintain a climate of mutual respect.
He noted that while there are myriad perspectives on approaches to reducing gun violence, there is, at the very least, national unity around the idea that schools should be safe and secure places for students to learn.
“No one should feel obliged or coerced to participate or feel ostracized or embarrassed by electing not to participate. There will be respect accorded to participants and non-participants alike,” he said. “Second, this is not a referendum on the Second Amendment. This is not a political moment or stage to advance pro-NRA or anti-NRA sentiments. Let’s keep our focus on honoring the 17 victims and on agreeing that gun violence in school settings should be seen as anathema to us — as a curse upon any human institution, especially schools.” He closed his remarks by reminding students that administrators, faculty, and staff care deeply about their well-being, and the connections they forge within the school community strengthen them.
On February 27, Mr. Manning e-mailed a letter to parents which reviewed the school’s approach to safety and health/wellness; the letter also noted the various national events coalescing in response to the Parkland shooting, and indicated that students would be permitted to “participate respectfully within clear parameters, if (and only if) they choose to do so.”
In the letter, he noted, “Certainly, there should be no sense of compulsion, but I am equally aware of the need to give our students the opportunity to express their views on an issue that matters deeply to them.”