TIPP CITY — As thousands of students across the country walked out of classrooms Wednesday morning, students in Miami County organized walk outs and memorial events.
About 100 Tippecanoe High School students stood outside in the snow in silence to honor the memories of the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida, shooting that happened one month ago. According to the district, 75 middle school students also participated in a similar event.
According to Principal Steve Verhoff, school staff communicated with student leadership about the event. Superintendent Gretta Kumpf noted that the event was planned by the students, not staff, and that it was supervised.
“The Supreme Court has been very clear on respecting First Amendment rights for students. They don’t check that right when they walk in the school house door,” he said. “We feel that they’ve planned a very positive and respectful demonstration. In my mind, I feel we need to support our students who are exercising their civil liberties.”
A statement from the district stressed that the effort was “completely spearheaded by students” and that the district does not endorse any political positions or messages expressed during the event.
There were no consequences for students participating in the demonstration so long as they did not leave school property and returned to class afterward, Verhoff said.
“Our concern, too, is students that have different views, how they’re going to respond to that. So we’ve been very clear that, yes, you have First Amendment rights, but when those rights intrude on others’ — if it’s inappropriate language, if it’s profane, if it’s threatening, if it’s harassment — you lose your First Amendment rights at that point,” Verhoff said.
A flyer passed out at school and posted to social media described the event as a “peaceful demonstration as part of a nationwide movement for law reformation.” It acknowledged that students had different reasons for participating in the event but noted, “we walk together.”
The district included the Tipp City Police Department in plans for the event. Police were on campus to ensure student safety.
Bethel High School students opted to stay in the school on Wednesday, Principal Craig Vasil told the school board at their meeting Monday night.
“Our students made some really tough decisions as we approached this day,” he said.”They didn’t really like the idea of a walk out. This needs to be a day in which we try to unite people and not divide people.”
Student leaders decided against a walk out in favor of a ceremony in honor of fallen students and staff in Parkland, as well all those who have died in school shootings across the country, Vasil said.
“This is not a gun debate, this is not a political debate. This is honoring people who have fallen in schools. Too many kids, too many staff members die in schools and we want to honor them,” he said.
Reach Cecilia Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.