In Shadow of U.S. School Shootings, Boise School Officials Prepare for Mass Student Walk-out, Statehouse Demonstration 

In the shadow of the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a mass walkout is being planned by students across the United States for Wednesday, March 14. In Boise, school officials are expecting hundreds of students to walk out of their classrooms at approximately 10 a.m., many of whom will make their way to the steps of the Idaho Statehouse where they’ll hold an “Enough is Enough” demonstration.

Boise Independent School District officials are sending letters to parents of students, explaining that while teachers will continue with planned lessons, the district recognizes the right of students to demonstrate. Parents of high school students are being urged to provide formal notice to their children's schools if they plan to excuse the absence to participate in the walkout. Parents of middle school students are being told junior highs will “designate a safe space inside the school for students to gather” if they choose to demonstrate. Parents who decide to take their child/children out of school to attend the demonstration must formally check students out of school.
click to enlarge 123RF
  • 123RF
In anticipation of the March 14 demonstration, Boise School Superintendent Don Coberly, Assistant Superintendent Coby Dennis and Area Director Amy Kohlmeier spoke exclusively with Boise Weekly about the coming walkout, school safety and being proactive about identifying potential crises.

Can we assume the district is talking about public safety, mental health and counseling more than ever before?

: Long before Parkland, long before the mass shooting in Las Vegas, we added more training and positioned emergency teams at every one of our facilities. Throughout the year, we’ve been bringing in those teams to train around real-world scenarios, asking, “How would you handle this?” We’re asked all he time, “Do you train for an active shooter?” The answer is yes. The more scenarios you train for, the more appropriate your response will be.

Let’s talk about infrastructure. With voters giving the district approval for a $172 million bond package in 2017, you’re currently building or remodeling schools throughout the district. Are you looking at those floor plans differently now, in terms of public safety?

Dennis: I can give you an immediate example. At North Junior High, we’re instituting a buzz-in system, so that you just can’t walk into the building, you have to check in. On the flip side, think about Amity Elementary, which we’re going to be rebuilding. When you look at the old building, the school office is in the center of the building. You have to walk by six or seven classrooms to check-in.

Can we assume metal detectors are not on the table?

Dennis: No, [they are not]. We don’t want schools to turn to prisons. We have to find solutions that allow our schools to be inviting parts of our community without having to through metal detectors.

Dr. Coberly, can you speak to the externals of safety at our schools and, in particular, working with police?

Coberly: I now sit on a committee commissioned by Boise Police Chief Bill Bones. It’s a very eclectic group. In every set of remarks from every person there, the issue of mental health came up. We just had a conversation with one of our senior high school principals, and she said mental health was the No. 1 issue as well.

Kohlmeier: When we talk about mental health, we talk about very specific things. In many cases, kids involved in school violence have somehow been disenfranchised. So, at all our schools at every level, we have to develop cultures that are respectful and inclusive. Having been a junior high and high school principal, I can tell you that we try very hard to know what’s going on in kids’ lives. The ones that are most vulnerable, even if there’s no diagnosis of mental illness, there’s a good chance they’re disenfranchised.

Coberly: That’s exactly what we’re talking about in our committee: those disenfranchised kids. We have to have full cooperation in the community.

Dennis: We’re now in the second year of our Community School Program. The concept is that a school is the hub of the neighborhood. It’s an efficient way to get those kids the help they need. The program includes help in getting food and clothing, health and social services. We saw this program over in Vancouver, Washington, and we instantly knew it would work here in Bose.

Can you speak about how Boise schools are gun-free zones.

Kohlmeier: We’re definitely in favor of gun-free zones here.

Coberly: Our Board of Education has taken a position  we do not support arming teachers. We hire our teachers to teach. Our board was very quick to get a statement out after the Parkland incident.

Now, let’s talk about the student demonstration, planned for Wednesday, March 14.

Kohlmeier: We just sent out letters to parents of junior high and senior high students. We have a board policy that gives students the right to assemble. Initially, we had heard that it would be a 17-minute demonstration.

Now we know there’s a rally at the Statehouse. I’m assuming students from a handful of schools might walk to the Capitol. That’s going to take more than 17 minutes.

Kohlmeier: We tell parents that their students indeed have a right to assemble, so we support that, but it has to be with a parent’s permission. If a student intends to walk out, they’ll be excused as long as their parents call in to the school and excuse them.

That will be managed at the school level?

Kohlmeier: Yes. At the high school, it’s very straight forward. By a stroke of luck, there’s a break that starts at 10 a.m., when the demonstration is scheduled to begin. We’re also asking the schools to provide a safe space inside the building for students who want to express their views but can’t get down to the Capitol. Again, if kids want to go to that location, they’ll need to be excused by parents.

How about middle schools?

Kohlmeier: At the junior high level, we don’t want any students leaving campus. Again, we’re asking those schools to provide a safe place to gather. Each school will also offer some activities during lunch or during a break when students can express their concerns and opinions. For instance, students might want to write letters to survivors of a shooting or to write their congressmen. At the high school, there may be some petitions to sign or voter registration opportunities.

Dennis: It’s all about honoring our students’ voices to be heard. This event isn’t us being punitive or students being political. It’s about giving students an opportunity. If they have an opinion, they need to be heard.

Below is a copy of the letter being sent to Boise parents of high school students:

Dear Boise School District High School Parents/Guardians:

A national school student walkout is planned for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 in recognition of the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting last month. Originally we had anticipated that this would be a 17-minute event; however, recently we have received information that activities will be held at the state Capitol beginning 10:30 and lasting until noon on that day.

The District recognizes the right of students to demonstrate, per our Freedom of Expression and Assembly Policy #3220. The start-time for the walkout coincides with the beginning of break, but for parents who wish for their students to participate in the planned activities off campus, we will follow our current attendance policy, which states: "Absences from school with the knowledge and approval of a student’s parent/guardian are excused..." "In order for an absence to be excused, oral or written communication from the student’s parent/guardian should be received."

For parents who wish for their students to demonstrate but not to leave campus, each school will designate a place inside the school.

To that end, so that our schools can plan accordingly, we encourage parents to follow current absence reporting procedures and provide their school with advance notice of their child's absence in this regard. Absences without the consent of the student’s parent/guardian or District officials will be considered Unexcused Absences, per district policy.

Teachers will continue with their planned lessons and our schools will operate normally during the student walkout. Each school will offer alternative activities during lunch and break by which students can express their concerns and opinions. These activities might include writing letters to survivors of the shooting, writing congressmen, and connecting with peers in positive ways. Our staff will set the expectation that all students respect each other’s diverse opinions.

Students who participate in the student walkout are expected to return to school after the student walk out ends.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

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