Plans are taking shape for Bloomington-Normal high schoolers to participate in a national walkout movement this month aimed at curbing gun violence in schools.
Both Unit 5 high schools and Bloomington High School are expecting students to participate in some way March 14, though plans are still in flux. Many participants in the national protest — sparked by the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida — are planning to walk out for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. March 14. The political goal is to get Congress to pass stricter gun control legislation.
It’s unclear if walkouts will occur in Bloomington-Normal schools, or if students will turn to other forms of demonstration. Some students have expressed concern they’ll face disciplinary action if they participate, although Unit 5 and BHS administrators say peaceful protesters won’t be reprimanded.
“We want to make sure it’s appropriate in regards to behavior,” said Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel, calling the walkouts a learning opportunity. “They need to re-enter and move back into classrooms immediately thereafter, (so) it’s not a major disruption. Very inappropriate behavior won’t be tolerated and shouldn’t be tolerated.”
Rachel Evans, a Spanish teacher at Normal West, said at least one of her students—a sophomore—is trying to coordinate some sort of demonstration March 14. Evans, who is politically active herself, said she’s walking a fine line in her classroom of not “unnecessarily influencing” her students while also encouraging their “ability to do what they believe in.”
The young survivors of the Florida shooting have publicly lobbied for new gun-control measures, appearing in media interviews to make emotional pleas.
“High schoolers are capable of making these kinds of decisions, and it’s time we integrate them into these discussions. Because it’s going to be important for them. They’re the ones whose lives are on the line every day in school. They’re the ones who should get to have a say,” Evans said.
Evans said some students are concerned about the prospects of being disciplined for participating. Sensing this worry, universities like Illinois State have told prospective students that “disciplinary action associate with their participation in peaceful protests will not impact their admission.”
“Some are just so concerned about what those possibilities are,” Evans said.
At Bloomington High School, Principal Tim Moore has met with student leaders who are still figuring out their plans. A joint demonstration with Bloomington Junior High School is possible, he said.
Moore said those who protest peacefully will not face discipline. Moore said he and some of his students are interested in broader ways to approach school safety, although gun control is part of that. Students discussed what they can do to help social outcasts feel more welcome, he said.
“That’s what I want to come out of this. If we’re going to continue to keep BHS a safe place, every individual in our building has a responsibility and a role in doing that,” Moore said.