Students in public high schools across the valley are participating in memorial events today to honor the 17 victims killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, as part of a national walkout.
Bigfork, Glacier, Columbia Falls and Whitefish high school students have memorials planned that will begin at 10 a.m. while Flathead High School’s “17 Minutes of Silence Memorial” will be held at 3:15 p.m. after students are released from class. Participation in events is voluntary.
Students across the nation are holding walkouts at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to honor the victims of the Florida shooting, but also to protest Congress’ inaction in response to gun violence, according to the organization Women’s March Youth Empower, which originated the #Enough National School Walkout on today’s date.
Locally, many student organizers and administrators, however, have emphasized that the 17 minutes will not be in protest, but solely used to honor and remember victims and the survivors of the Florida school shooting.
Administrators have worked to balance students’ desires to participate in civic engagement that is conducive to maintaining a non-disruptive, safe environment alongside First Amendment rights and school rules.
Many administrators have made it clear that school districts will not take a stance on gun control, nor endorse or advocate for a specific national organization tied to the March 14 walkouts, but will not penalize students for participating unless they violate school rules and policies. Schools have policies and consequences regarding demonstrations that interrupt or disrupt classes or the overall operation of school, which may be found in respective school handbooks.
The Bigfork School District is handling today’s events differently, as Bigfork School District Superintendent Matt Jensen explained in a bulletin to families:
“We simply respect students’ First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. The district’s primary responsibility will to be centered on instruction and we will continue the school day on a regular schedule. Attendance policies will be followed.
“Parents of students planning on participating in the walkout should notify the Bigfork High School office at least 24 hours prior to the event. By definition the absence will still be considered ‘unexcused.’ However, students may be able to make up missed work and will not be subject to discipline consistent with absences related to truancy. Students who have not been checked out of the office, but choose to leave the building, will be marked truant.”
While students at some schools will gather outside on school grounds for the memorials, Whitefish High School’s event will be held inside the school. Whitefish senior Zach Ade elaborated on the event in a Facebook comment responding to a Daily Inter Lake article on what schools were doing as part of the national walkout. At the time, students in Whitefish were still finalizing plans.
“We will be reading off the names, showing a slide show of the victims, and lighting candles in their honor. Afterwards, at lunch, we will have any student who wants to participate come together and help draft a letter to our Montana congressmen and legislature. We are not simply ‘walking out’ and in fact the ceremony is happening inside. I am very proud of what Whitefish is doing during March 14th with the ceremony and the letter writing to our state government. I believe it is going to have an impact and be something we as a school system, student body, and community can be 100% proud of.”
At Glacier High School, students will read brief biographies on each of the 17 victims killed, followed by playing a tribute song written and sung by Marjory Douglas High School students.
In Bigfork, participating students will talk about school and student safety and support services, how to give back to the community, followed by naming the 17 victims and a moment of silence. Seventeen different flowers will symbolize the life of each victim according to student organizer Riley Hoveland, a senior at Bigfork High School.
In addition to Flathead’s memorial event, junior Reed Miller said student leadership “hopes to start a 17 Days of Kindness,” beginning Wednesday.
“There will be a box in the commons during lunch that students can put kind words, wisdom, and insights each day,” Miller said. “Every day on announcements, a note will be selected and read aloud.”
Columbia Falls High School student organizers have plans to sing “Amazing Grace,” as they assemble outside to share thoughts with a moment of silence as victims are named.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.