Helena Public Schools will not prohibit students from walking out of class on March 14 to protest gun violence, but the usual consequences for unexcused absences will remain.
The protest at Helena's two high schools was organized by Helena Youth Against Gun Violence in solidarity with survivors in Parkland, Florida, after a former student killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day. Students who choose to participate will walk out at 10 a.m. regardless of their time zone for 17 minutes to honor the 17 people killed. Afterward, students will return to class.
As of March 8, more than 2,250 schools and colleges across the nation planned to participate in the walkout, according to the Women’s March Youth Empower website. The organization helped Parkland students plan the walkout as well as a March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. on March 24.
Students across the country are facing varying levels of support or threats of discipline from their school administration.
Capital High Principal Brett Zanto and Helena High Principal Steve Thennis sent the same email on Thursday morning recognizing the event and advising parents on possible consequences.
“While we would prefer that students find a different way to express their views rather than missing school, we are not going to prohibit this demonstration,” the email said.
Helena students who walk out of class will receive an unexcused absence unless excused by a parent. According to the high school handbooks, the consequences for an unexcused absence depend on how many a student has received. For a first unexcused absence, a parent will be notified by telephone or letter and no credit is allowed in the class the absence occurred. If a student receives a third unexcused absence, the student will lose credit “in all classes for the semester.”
The email said school will operate as normal during the 17 minute walkout and students are expected to follow school rules and not violate the rights of other students.
“We want to ensure that all students feel safe and respected, no matter what they choose to do,” the email said.
Students will hear an announcement over the intercom on March 13 reminding them to be safe, civil and respectful. The email encourages parents to speak with their students about the protest and their level of involvement.
Teachers will not participate in the walkout, Thennis said.
"Teachers need to fulfill their contract obligations, which is to teach their classes," he said.
Teachers that have a prep period can assist with supervision but nothing beyond that.
Carroll College is hosting its own walkout on March 14 on the steps of St. Charles Hall.
Helena Youth Against Gun Violence is also organizing a local March for Our Lives event. The national march taking place in Washington, D.C. is organized by the students from Parkland as well. The Helena event will take place at Memorial Park from noon to 2 p.m.
On the same day as March for Our Lives, a locally organized event called March for Our Guns will take place at the Capitol from noon to 1 p.m. to support the rights of gun owners.