Response to March 14 Walkout event from Superintendent Michelle Saylor
On March 14, Bellefonte Area students exercised choice. Some students chose to stay in class, because in their words, “we want to remain in class in honor of the students who were killed because they can no longer go to classes – we want to do for them what they can no longer do.” Some students chose to go to the theater and talk to each other about their concerns; and to text, email, or call their legislators to voice their opinions, ideas, and concerns. Some students chose to walk out – they peacefully and thoughtfully read biographies of those who were killed in the tragic Parkland, Florida event, to share their thoughts, and to have a moment of silence. We held conversations with students several times prior to March 14. Many students voiced safety concerns with walking out. Students brought ideas to the table – perhaps one I am most proud of is their acts of kindness – “What’s Your 17?” They embraced the idea of sharing their voice with our legislators. In fact, they also want to have an evening forum with GT Thompson to voice their concerns; we are still waiting for his availability.
We have approximately 850 students enrolled in the high school of which about 50 chose to go to the theater and 50 chose to leave the building.
All students and parents were made aware that those who did choose to physically exit the building would face consequences as defined by the code of conduct and are no different than what they would have faced for a similar action on any other day. This decision was made for safety reasons. As educators our primary responsibility is to ensure our learning environments are as safe as possible, we were not comfortable sending students outside at a nationally predetermined time to be soft targets for someone who may take extreme measures. And, again, our students had many differing thoughts and ideas for what they felt was the way they wanted to lift their voice. As an educational institution it is our responsibility to empower all of our students.
We also believe a valuable lesson was learned yesterday and the students who chose to walk outside, and incur consequences received a lesson more valuable than any who may have otherwise participated. We are all held accountable to varying codes of conduct in our lives, whether it is within our families, communities, organizations, or for civic purpose. So often we are eager to voice an opinion if we do not have to accept responsibility or accountability to the behavior or decision. However, when we are charged with purposefully weighing our beliefs and our actions, when we thoughtfully and consciously choose to break a rule for our beliefs and face the consequences head on, we are making a statement that is stronger than any other that could possibly be voiced. This is an invaluable lesson in today’s society where so many adults shy away from taking a risk in the face of a sacrifice. I am so very proud of our students, the multiple decisions they made and were empowered to make, and the maturity and respect they displayed in the process. Everyone can learn from them.
All high school families received a letter well in advance of the walkout date. It was mailed out on March 8. It was also posted on the district’s website for public view well in advance of the walkout date. Decisions were made thoughtfully in the best interest of all students with safety first and education second. Please also refer to our district homepage at https://www.basd.net/site/default.aspx?PageID=1.