Safe and respectful.
That was the goal for Hood River Middle School staff when students began organizing a walkout for March 14.
And that was what they got.
“It’s been an interesting process just to see where the kids are at,” said Principal Brent Emmons Wednesday morning before students walked out of class at 10 a.m. “We’re not facilitating this — it’s not our job to tell kids what to think about political issues. (Our) job is to keep them safe, orderly and respectful. That’s my main concern.”
Emmons met with student organizers ahead of the walkout to go over safety concerns. While students were mostly worried about getting in trouble if they walked out of class, staff wanted to make sure students stayed safe and on campus — whether they chose to protest or not.
HRMS has been using this as a teachable moment, he said. Staff presented a slide show and class discussion entitled, “Together, We Can Do This!” on the morning of the walkout, which outlined specific measures all students can do to enhance school safety, such as reporting information, keeping doors closed to the public and standing up for others.
“This morning, we let the students know we respect the students’ rights to express themselves with a specifically-timed walkout,” he said. “Whether the kids participate — or not participate — they won’t get into any trouble.
“But if they leave campus, if they are disrespectful, there will be consequences,” he added.
A couple hundred students began lining the sidewalk in front of the school at 10 a.m. HRMS office staff, district office staff, and police were already outside to make sure students assembled safely and peacefully.
Some students held signs with messages such as “g(un) safe” and “Thoughts and Prayers are Not Enough.” Eighth grader Tiffany Bertadillo transcribed all 17 names of students killed during the Parkland shooting Feb. 14.
“We are out here in memory of the 17 kids who died,” said eighth grader Emma Dyal. “We’re putting the message out there that enough is enough. School shootings should stop.”
“We think it’s respectful to raise awareness about gun violence and have world peace,” said Brissa Rojas, another eighth grader.
“I think enough is enough for sure,” said eighth grader Maddie Woo. “I’m honestly more worried about preschool and elementary students … they’re young, and it’s unfortunate when kids die young from shootings and natural disasters.”
Students got a few encouraging honks from passing cars, which were met with cheers. Chants of “Enough is enough” and “Safety in schools” periodically rang out through the crowd, who kept to the sidewalk — although a few had to be reminded not to step foot in the street.
When the 17-minute mark came, the students began filing back into the building and into classrooms.
“I was very impressed with how our students who chose to protest did so in a respectful, orderly, and peaceful fashion,” said Emmons in an email after the event. “The students quietly exited the building and after 17 minutes turned around and went back to class without loitering in the halls. I asked teachers to take roll after the protest and reminded students to extend the same respect and peacefulness to the students who chose to not protest.”
In a letter to students prior to the walkout, Emmons wrote that “all of the adults at HRMS are deeply concerned about school safety but during work hours, we cannot participate in political activity. Any walkout that you might be hearing about will be planned and led by students — not by the adults at school.
“We respect your right to express your personal views and encourage you to be informed and engaged with community members,” he continued. “We also respect your right not to express your views or to take views that are different from others. This is an important part of our democracy.”
He also outlined expectations for the event, including following the student code of conduct, classes remaining in session for those choosing not to participate, and being respectful of all points of views.