EAST ROCKHILL >> More than 200 Pennridge High School students will be receiving Saturday morning detentions for leaving the school building to take part in the March 14 National School Walkout.
“Just to be clear, no student will be disciplined because they expressed any particular viewpoint or opinion. Rather, the disciplinary consequence will be given for willfully breaking a school rule about leaving the building without permission,” Superintendent Jacqueline Rattigan wrote in a message to parents and guardians the night of March 14. “The District is committed to administering its policies equally and without favoring or opposing any particular viewpoint to the exclusion of others. While the District respects the opinions of all of its students, it is also responsible for ensuring the safety of its students throughout the school day.”
Students throughout the country took part in the National School Walkout a month after 17 people, most of them students, were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
At Pennridge, a remembrance assembly honoring the 17 victims of the Florida shooting was held at 9:45 a.m. March 14.
A March 13 notice to parents and students noted 10 a.m. walkouts were planned throughout the country.
“The administration does not deem it safe to allow students to leave the building and is not endorsing or permitting such conduct. Students who nonetheless elect to leave the building during the school day without permission will receive the consequences which would normally apply in such circumstances,” Rattigan wrote in the March 13 message.
Following the district’s normal attendance policies, parents or guardians could come to the school and sign the students out, the notice said.
The student handbook, which is signed by parents at the beginning of the school year, clearly spells out the consequences of leaving school without permission, Joe Ferry, Pennridge’s public relations coordinator, said.
The handbook lists one Saturday morning detention for a first offense, two Saturday morning detentions for a second offense and Saturday morning community service for third and fourth offenses. It is also recorded as an unlawful absence, the handbook says.
Five students who left the school property during the walkout to go to Dunkin’ Donuts will receive an additional detention, Ferry said.
As of noontime March 15, it had not yet been determined when students who took part in the walkout would serve their detention, he said.
Handbook information says Saturday morning detentions take place from 8 to 10 a.m. During the detention, students must remain in their seats and do school-related work, the information says.
“During detention, students are prohibited from talking, eating, drinking, sleeping, or placing one’s head on the desk or against the wall,” the handbook says.
Video on Twitter from the Pennridge walkout shows one student saying, “We’re the future leaders of this country and we’re going to tell Congress that they have to do something. They can’t be complicit anymore, and some people say we’re not going to change anything, but change starts here.”
The speaker encourages his fellow students to take part in the November elections by voting if the student is old enough or supporting candidate campaigns if not yet old enough to vote.
“This is amazing that this many kids have walked out here. I’ve never seen such passion on an issue before and I’m just so proud of all of you for coming out here and we’re not going to let Parkland victims die in vain,” he said.
“Thoughts and prayers are great,” he said, “but they’re not going to solve this.”
“Everything that we’ve learned for so long — to stand up for our beliefs, to speak out against injustice — it’s really nice to know that to some people those aren’t empty words,” another student said in another video on Twitter.
“We need to speak up for what we believe in,” he said.
Rattigan’s full March 14 message to parents and guardians follows:
“Dear parents and guardians,
“As you probably know, today (March 14) student leaders at the high school held a Remembrance assembly to honor the 17 victims killed in the February 14, 2018, Parkland, Florida School shooting. As previously communicated, moments of silence were also offered in our middle and elementary schools. I have been told by principals that everything was orderly and handled with respect.
“On behalf of the School Board and administration, please know that I was proud of the way our students conducted themselves at all levels. Approximately 800 students attended assemblies in two locations at the high school in which students sat in silence for 17 minutes while viewing a slideshow in honor of the victims. It was a moving experience for those who participated.
“At the high school, about 225 students chose to walk out of school, including a few who were accompanied by their parents, to hold their own activity rather than attending the remembrance assembly. Those who did so unaccompanied by a parent will face the disciplinary consequences, which were outlined in advance. Just to be clear, no student will be disciplined because they expressed any particular viewpoint or opinion. Rather, the disciplinary consequence will be given for willfully breaking a school rule about leaving the building without permission.
“The District is committed to administering its policies equally and without favoring or opposing any particular viewpoint to the exclusion of others. While the District respects the opinions of all of its students, it is also responsible for ensuring the safety of its students throughout the school day. The remainder of our student body who attended school on Wednesday elected to stay in their classrooms accompanied by teachers during the Remembrance assembly or moments of silence.
“We thank members of the Pennridge Regional Police Department who were on hand inside and outside the high school building to protect the safety of all students and staff. We thank our other police departments as well since their presence was witnessed at other district schools.
“Today was a shining example of the Pennridge T.A.K.E.S. P.R.I.D.E. initiative in action. The high school student leaders who planned the assembly demonstrated ‘initiative.’ Those who attended the assembly portrayed “empathy” and “respect” for the victims.
“If today was a test of how our students can express their beliefs in a respectful and orderly fashion, I would give everyone involved an ‘A+.’”