Not all schools in San Francisco were on board with the district-wide walkouts on Wednesday that were part of a nationwide, student-led protest against gun violence.
A parent at Marina Middle School said that while the school held a 17-minute vigil at noon to honor the victims and survivors of a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, four students were blocked from participating in the 10 a.m. walk out by the school’s principal.
San Francisco Unified School District Spokesperson Gentle Blythe confirmed the incident, and said that the school’s principal and assistant principal “persuaded the students to come back.”
Principal Ginny Daws did not respond to request for comment by press time, but wrote in an email to parents that was shared with the San Francisco Examiner that it “was a difficult day for any members of a school community; as we tried to balance giving our students their voice, ensuring everyone’s safety and following school and district protocols.”
According to the email, student leaders approached the school’s administration last week to “talk about doing a march against guns today in support of their peers across the country,” and the school worked with the director of Emergency Preparedness, the Superintendent’s Office and other middle school administrators to “share district protocol with our student leaders who planned this walk today.”
Daws wrote that the students worked with school administrators to plan a 17 minute event during a noon advisory class, during which they brought posters to the school yard, “putting them up on our wall outside while they walked the track for 17 minutes.”
But a handful of students who also wanted to participate in the 10 a.m. walkout that saw hundreds of students on San Francisco’s streets, and nearly 1 million across the country, according to Youth EMPOWER, the youth affiliate of Women’s March behind the walkouts, were asked to come back inside and participate in the noon event instead.
“As four students walked out, because it was pouring rain and the school already had an event created for students by students to commemorate the day, the school administration asked the students to come back in,” said Blythe.
A SFUSD spokesperson said the district said ahead of Wednesday’s walkouts that school “staff must mark the student down for an unexcused tardy or absence.”
Superintendent Vincent Matthews said earlier in the day while participating in a walkout event at the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts that the district worked with school leaders in supporting students in exercising their right to free speech.
“We want them to absolutely express their voices and their leadership in terms of moving forward with what should happen around gun violence and gun safety,” he said, adding that if students leave campus, “some of the classes will continue, and the teachers legally cannot mark them present if they are not there.”
“It’s unfortunate that certain people begin to focus on absences as opposed to focusing on the actions of students in what they are doing in taking on leadership,” he added.
Mayor Mark Farrell, who also attended the morning event at RASOTA, told the San Francisco Examiner that his own two elementary school aged children would be participating the walkouts.
“My kid wanted to walk out and should have been allowed to,” said the Marina parent.
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