Several Alle-Kiski Valley districts will allow students to protest mass shootings Wednesday
Students in the Alle-Kiski Valley will join their peers across the country Wednesday in a 17-minute walkout honoring the 17 victims of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
March 14 marks the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting.
Dubbed the ENOUGH National School Walkout, the idea originated with the group EMPOWER, a coalition of organizations led by the youth division of the January 2017 Women's March organizers.
Each local school district is putting its own twist on the idea to personalize it and ensure students' safety.
Students at Highlands and Valley high schools will be holding indoor events.
• Highlands High School and its middle school students will be participating for the district. High school students will step out into the hall, where members of the school's band will participate.
"They will beat 17 drumbeats," said Kim Price, Highlands Middle School principal.
Students at the middle school will listen to the song "Amazing Grace," recorded by the school's band, which Price said happens to last 170 seconds, keeping with the 17 observance.
Students will then fill out cards for 17 random acts of kindness.
"I am so proud of our students for taking something difficult and turning it into something meaningful," Price said.
• New Kensington-Arnold School District will let students participate, but they will remain inside the schools while doing it for safety reasons.
"Our 'walkout' will be a 'sit-in,' " said Superintendent John Pallone. "We want to keep the buildings secure, we want to keep the kids safe, so we've implemented an alternate plan."
Pallone said the district supports nonviolent behavior in schools, but he doesn't think it would be safe for students to be outside during the protest.
"I think it's foolish for an agency that's against violence to promote taking kids out of school on a fixed day, at a fixed time across the nation and subject them to (a) possible attack," he said. "I think that's just very short-sighted on the side of security, and I'm not willing to put our students at risk — particularly with the issue that we're trying to combat."
• Allegheny Valley School District sent out a letter to parents letting them know what the district's plans are for Wednesday.
A "White Out for Peace" is planned in which students will wear white for peace and their hope to improve safety within their schools.
Allegheny Valley Superintendent Patrick Graczyk said student well-being is a top priority.
Building administrators have made arrangements for staff to monitor events. Arrangements have also been made for students who don't want to participate.
"Allegheny Valley sees this time as a teaching moment," Graczyk said in the letter. "Our students have asked to participate in an activity that gives them a voice, a part in a national movement and a productive way to express themselves."
He said in the letter that when students advocate for an issue they feel passionate about, it can be a powerful learning experience.
"The lessons learned in citizenship, respect and tolerance cannot be measured," he said.
• At Burrell School District, Superintendent Shannon Wagner said as of Monday, officials hadn't heard of any students who wanted to participate, but they are open to the idea.
"We are just waiting to see and hoping that they'll at least tell us so that we can do it in an orderly manner," Wagner said.
Wagner said Burrell students are usually pretty quiet, but it's important to listen to them if they want to participate.
"This is obviously their right as kids," Wagner said. "We're not going to stop them. They're just having a voice, and student voice is important."
• Leechburg Area School District Superintendent Tiffany Brzezinski-Nix said the district has "no plans to accommodate or participate in any walkout."
Another nationwide school walkout is planned for April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.
Staff writers Madasyn Czebiniak, Chuck Biedka and Jamie Martines contributed. Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @emilybalser.