Columbia County students expected to participate in national walkout
During a national school walkout planned for Wednesday, March 14, several student groups in Columbia County expressed their intent to participate.
The national "Enough: National School Walkout" event, which is being organized by the Women's March Youth Empower group, will take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday as a 17-minute demonstration designed to bring attention to gun violence on the month anniversary of the deadly Florida school shooting, according to the organizer's website.
Locally, school district staff in Scappoose and St. Helens said students have expressed interest in taking part in the walkout, and will likely do so this week. While no local events have registered with the national campaign, students in Columbia County are using the opportunity to start conversations about school safety.
In Scappoose, some high school students are hoping to steer the conversation away from politics.
Montana Poppenhagen, a Scappoose High School student helping organize a walkout, said she and her classmates want to speak up for their own safety.
"The fact that our generation is known as the school shooting generation is not OK, and that fact that people, including myself, are scared to go to school is not OK," Poppenhagen said. "School should be a safe sanctuary space."
Poppenhagen said she is expecting between 150 and 200 of her classmates to talk part in the walkout.
Scappoose Interim Superintendent Ron Alley explained that the district has routinely followed a policy of allowing students to express themselves, but also reminds students that skipping class breaks school rules and has consequences. Students who walk out will be required to attend a three-hour Saturday school, where students will be required to make up missed classwork under supervision. Students marked absent from a class are also excluded from taking part in extracurricular activities that day.
"The standard has always been that if you miss class, that's skipping," Alley said.
He added that the district does support students' rights.
"They have the right to express themselves," Alley said. "The only time campus is open is before or after school, so we'd prefer they stay on school grounds. But, we just want to make sure that students are aware of expectations."
St. Helens High School Interim Principal Ted Zehr confirmed students on his campus are also organizing a walkout, one that aligns with an academic access hour, however, so students would not skip class instruction. Students are not to leave campus and will be supervised by staff, Zehr said.
High-schoolers are hoping to focus on school safety as their main message, Zehr explained.
Several social media posts made by St. Helens High students also indicated their intent to walk out Wednesday.
St. Helens Superintendent Scot Stockwell sent a letter to parents and staff Tuesday morning letting them know about the planned walkout.
"As a District, we are neither encouraging nor discouraging students to participate. We do recognize that students retain the right to freedom of speech and expression, within certain boundaries," the letter stated in part. "Again, it is our strong desire to work with students and families to ensure that everyone understands our approach to school safety, has their questions answered and their voice heard. Working together, we can keep our schools safe and secure so students can learn and thrive. "
The letter also included a bulleted list of student behavior expectations.
Interim St. Helens Middle School Principal Linda Hall said a group of students recently presented school staff with a letter expressing their intent to take part in the walkout. In the letter, 12 middle school students outlined a variety of changes they felt could be implemented in their school immediately at no cost to provide a safer campus.
Some of their ideas included having more lockdown drills, conducting more frequent locker inspections, and promoting campaigns amongst peers to speak up if they hear something suspicious.
"These kids took the angle of, what can we do for free to make what we already do better?" Hall said.
Hall said their intent was to raise awareness about school safety, not necessarily gun violence.
Taking part in demonstrations like this one also provides an opportunity for young students to learn about the civics process and personal rights, Hall said, topics that have been covered in social studies courses this year.
"I think teachers are very supportive of kids learning how to exercise their rights to free speech. It's like education in action, and it's kind of exciting to see it," Hall said.
Staff won't be issuing suspensions or direct discipline to students for walking out, Hall explained, but said students will be responsible for making up any missed classwork. Staff also explained to students that teachers must remain in their classrooms and won't attend the protests.
"The natural consequence will be that they'll miss part of the lesson and they might need to make that up," Hall said,
Later this month, a second national protest, "March for Our Lives," will be held Saturday, March 24. March for Our Lives was organized as a protest by survivors of the Florida school shooting.
In April, the Women's March Youth Empower group plans to host a national school walkout on April 20, marking the 19th anniversary of the deadly Columbine school shooting in Colorado.
As of Monday, March 12, no Columbia County groups were registered in connection with the events.