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Hundreds of local students walkout of class in push for change & to honor Florida shooting victims

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s been nearly a month since a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at a Florida high school. Since then, students across the country have been vocal about ending violence in schools.

That includes walkouts planned at schools across the country Wednesday, and Kansas City area schools are no exception.

FOX4 had crews at eight local high schools Wednesday to cover the walkouts. You can replay the coverage in the video player above.

Safety, awareness, ending gun violence — these are some of the driving forces behind Wednesday’s national school walkout.

The organizing group, Empower, said the walkouts are both protest and memorials in honor of the 17 people shot and killed Feb. 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

These are the 17 victims killed in the south Florida high school shooting

The walkouts started at 10 a.m. Wednesday and lasted 17 minutes for the 17 victims.

“I don’t feel safe going to school anymore," Park Hill High School student Evelyn Johnson-Hill told FOX4 prior to the walkout. "I told my mom about it. I had a conversation about it. I don’t feel safe. I just feel like innocent people, innocent kids and teachers died at that school. That was just uncalled for.”

She and her friend, fellow Park Hill High School student Alexis Gillom, decided they would walk out of class Wednesday. But they were concerned that if they didn’t go back to class afterward, they’d face the same penalties they would for skipping class any other day.

“Teachers said if you stand outside for only the 17 minutes and then come back afterwards, then you won’t be marked truant," Gillom said "But if you actually walk out and leave, then they will mark you truant.”

Park Hill is the only district FOX4 heard back from that plans to leave punishment up to school officials instead of putting out a district-wide policy.

The two girls said they could go back to class but said many students are planning to leave instead.

“A lot of kids are," Gillom said. "By the sound of that, a lot of kids will be marked truant.”

Johnson-Hill said it’s worth it.

“The fact that innocent kids died that day is really sad, so I want to stand up for all the voices that can’t today for us about what happened," Gillom said.

But student Ethan Giarraputo said he would not walk out. He said midterms are scheduled for some classes at Park Hill High School for Wednesday and Thursday.

Giarraputo said midterms are crucial for students, and since he already has one truancy mark, he can't afford to earn another one for leaving too long following Wednesday’s walkout.

“I think they are following school guidelines and what they should do,"  he said. "(But) I think if they were in our shoes, they would do the same thing and walk out with us. I just think it’s up to the district.”

Empower organizers have asked people not affiliated with schools to show solidarity with students by wearing orange or by walking out of their workplace for 17 minutes.

FOX4 reached out to more than a dozen metro school districts to find out if their students planned for Wednesday. Below are statements and/or any walkout information that FOX4 received in response:

Blue Springs R-IV School District: The district's march has been rescheduled to 10 a.m. March 21 because of testing.​​

Blue Valley Schools: The district is currently on spring break. A walk out is planned for April 20.

Hickman Mills C-1 School District: All three secondary principals have not heard of any planned walkouts or a visit to Washington D.C.

Hogan Preparatory Academy: Students contacted FOX 4 and said they’ll be participating. The school has not released any official information.

Kansas City (Missouri) Public Schools: “We will allow students their right to protest and will consider it a learning opportunity. We have multiple schools participating," a district spokesperson said.

Lawrence Public Schools: “We had a couple hundred students participate on Feb. 21, so we anticipate something similar (Wednesday),” a district spokesperson told FOX4.

Lee’s Summit School District: A district spokesperson issued the following statement:

“We are aware of student-initiated plans for some type of protest or demonstration on March 14. In alignment with our district’s Board of Education policy (IGDA, IGDA-AP), our district is required to allow students making the individual choice to participate in activities such as student-initiated walkouts or demonstrations. Board policies IGDA and IGDA-AP allow for student-initiated groups to assemble on campus. In alignment with the district’s Board policy, the district will not discipline students for participating in this event as long as their actions remain peaceful. Student participation in the March 14 event or other similar events is not required, and staff members will not encourage or discourage student participation. If students choose to participate in this student-initiated event at school, supervision will be provided by school staff members as well as a location for students to assemble. If students choose to participate in an event away from school, they would need to be checked out through normal attendance procedures. The student-initiated walkout day is a student-event only. The event is not open to public participation, and media will not be allowed on property to cover the student-initiated event.”

Liberty Public Schools: Students will be allowed to participate and will not have an unexcused absence during the walkout time period as long as they don't leave campus.

North Kansas City School District:

North Kansas City: Administration is working with the student leadership class to address an appropriate way to participate in the April 20 walkout.  At this time the students have selected to honor the students and adults who lost their lives with a program on the football field with the intent to have guest speakers to address the student body.  The students are working on making the program meaningful to address issues with the educational parameters that we work with.

Oak Park: In lieu of a walkout, Oak Park will be hosting a series of discussions between students, school and district personnel, and law enforcement with the first one being on March 12th at approximately 10:15-11:00 a.m.  The students at the discussion will be selected by our student leaders based on the nature of their questions and concerns to create a diverse panel.  We will live stream the discussion on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook for all students and community members to view.  There will be several more opportunities for students to engage with school staff and law enforcement in an effort to increase awareness of student and staff safety in our schools.

Staley: Administration is working with our student leadership to create a plan for Staley to demonstrate support for the victims of school violence and engage our school community in conversations and action towards the importance of school safety.

Winnetonka: Administration is working with Leadership Class to help them plan a meaningful and organized demonstration. We are looking at ways to make a more productive statement other than (or in addition to) a walk out. One idea that has come up us #What'sYour17 which is a movement that has also picking up popularity across the nation. In short, it challenges a student body to do 17 things for an agreed upon period of time that could really make a difference. For example: smile at 17 people you've never really noticed; have a conversation with 17 new people; or give one meaningful and thoughtful compliment to 17 different people. Our administration team has also discussed the possibility of having small group discussions with students or a townhall during advisory.

Olathe Public Schools: “Administrative Guidelines: Student Planned Walk-Outs in Response to Florida School Shooting:

  • The safety and security of our students is of the utmost importance before, during and after the protest.
  • The walk-out/protest must be student-led.
  • Student leaders should be able to articulate to the school’s administration the purpose of their “planned” walk-out. (The preference is that this is not a spontaneous activity).
  • District communication systems (e.g., intercom system; signs put up/placed within the school) will not be used to promote the activity.
  • A request should be made to the requesting student/student group leaders to meet with administration to review/plan the walk-out/protest (the conversation should include additional activities to show support for victims and to raise awareness of the issues).
  • Length of protest can be limited by the administrator (recommend 17 minutes to match national trend to honor the 17 Florida victims).
  • Protest must be orderly and non-violent
  • Protesters must remain respectful at all times; protest must be respectful of any others not wishing to protest and non-disruptive to the learning environment in general
  • Any derogatory and/or vulgar language, gestures, clothing, acts, signs will be prohibited
  • Students must remain on school property, in a pre-selected location and in proximity to staff supervision at all times
  • Participation in the protest will be an excused absence. Parents will be notified of their child’s participation. Any missed classwork can be made up and no penalty given.
  • Adequate staff must be available to supervise. Staff may not participate.
  • Assistance with parent/family communication prior to and after the protest will be provided from the district’s Communications Department
  • The Code of Student Conduct must be adhered to throughout the protest.”

Piper School District: Piper High School Principal John Nguyen sent the following letter to parents:

“Dear PHS Family,

On Wednesday, March 14, 2018, Women’s March Youth Empower has called for students across the country to take part in a school walkout to protest gun violence and call upon legislators to pass stricter gun control laws.  According to the organizers of the protest, students are to walk out of classes at 10:00 A.M. on March 14 for seventeen minutes.

While Piper High School administration does not endorse the protest, we have been working with students who will be taking part in to protest to ensure that it remains orderly and that students will be safe during the demonstration.  For students who choose to participate in the scheduled protest, every effort will be taken by PHS administration to ensure that students are safe.  School administration and our School Resource Officer will be present to supervise the demonstration in its entirety.

During the protest, classroom instruction will go on as usual and teachers will continue supervising students assigned to them.  Students who participate in the demonstration will be responsible for any material and assignments missed during their time out of the classroom.  PHS administration will make every effort to contact the parents of students who took part in the protest in an effort to inform them of their child’s participation.  Provided that there are no disruptive or inappropriate behaviors, PHS administration does not plan to implement disciplinary action for student participants at this time.

We ask that parents discuss the protest with their students as well as their plans to participate in the demonstration.  We also encourage parents to help their children to articulate their thoughts and beliefs on this highly complex issue.

Student safety is the highest priority at Piper High School.  We will continue to make every effort to make PHS the safest learning environment possible for students."

Raymore-Peculiar School District: Students will be allowed to walk out and participate at the school's stadium at a time allotted by the school, which is later than the national time. Should students walk out at any time other than the school allotted time, they will have an unexcused absence if they are not signed out by a parent.

Raytown Quality Schools: A district spokesperson issued the following statement:

“Our high school students are planning a walkout at school on March 14 (this is the date our students picked they said they wanted to do it sooner than the April 20 date). At the elementary and middle schools, there will be an assembly about bullying on the 14th in place of a walkout. We are meeting with our student councils tomorrow at 2 p.m. to finalize the details, and I will share them with media shortly after that. The high school walk-outs will be completely student-led.
Raytown High's walkout will start at 9:45 a.m. and end around 10:57 a.m. on the same day. Raytown South High's walkout will begin at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14."

Shawnee Mission School District:
 A walkout is planned for April 20.

Metro students join walkouts across the country, as part of a nationwide movement that began shortly after the Parkland shooting.

Download the fox4kc app and be sure to sign up under “alerts” for “push notifications.” We’ll alert you when live feeds of these walkouts are available.  FOX 4 Android app | FOX 4 iPhone app