Safety a concern for school leaders in Hanover ahead of planned walkout

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HANOVER COUNTY, Va.(WRIC) — Demonstrations are happening tomorrow, one month after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fl., but the response in Hanover County will be a little different.

Hanover County is one of only a few area school districts not formally endorsing a planned student walkout. Instead, school leaders say they want to strike a balance so students can express themselves without disrupting the school day or putting their safety at risk.

“I feel like this is the way that students can have their voice heard,” said Steve Medei, whose children go to school in Hanover County.

Parents across the area have mixed feelings about the walkouts planned nationwide at schools.

“Because I don’t understand why they would be walking out, I feel like there are other actions they can take,” Loria Lewis, of Caroline County, said.

“I feel like younger people have more of a voice now, or they and trying to have their voice heard,” Medei said.

Students at Hanover County Public Schools won’t be having their voices heard through a school-endorsed walk out. Superintend Michael Gill sent a letter last week, saying if there was an “unapproved demonstration” the district’s immediate focus would be on safety. Parents think that’s the right move.

“If it was safe for them to go to school, I’d let them go to school,” Medei said.

The district spokesperson Chris Whitley said in a statement there are many “Without question, there are serious safety concerns associated with allowing students to walk out of school. However, there are a wide variety of meaningful ways that students can safely express themselves during the school day that is not disruptive.”

One example is a “kindness project” at Mechanicsville Elementary, were students painted rocks as memorials for the lives lost in Parkland. The “Kindness Rocks” are being shipped to the school as well.

Parents, like Steve Medei, want to make sure the school community does talk about real-world issues, like the tragedy in Parkland.

“Parents, teachers and students to kind of ignore that like it’s not going on, then I don’t think it’s positive at all,” he added.

Whitley says the district is working with students to find other ways to honor the lives lost in the recent school shooting outside of the classroom.

We believe that we can strike a balance between respecting students’ right to free speech, freedom of expression, and civic responsibility and maintaining a safe and productive learning environment.  Without question, there are serious safety concerns associated with allowing students to walk out of school.  However, there are a wide variety of meaningful ways that students can safely express themselves during the school day that is not disruptive, and we’ve already seen several examples of this within our division.  We encourage students to continue working with their school administration to explore positive ways they can make a difference to honor the lives that were tragically lost.

Chris Whitley

Public Information Officer

Hanover County Public Schools

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