Preparing PPS for March 14th

As you may have heard, a National School Walkout has been called for March 14th to honor the lives lost in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14th.

Students, teachers, school administrators, parents, and allies around the country are taking part in a 17-minute remembrance at 10:00 AM across every time zone on March 14, 2018. This remembrance will highlight inaction on the part of federal lawmakers, who are only offering thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.

We have been working with District leaders to prepare for March 14th. In the process, there has been some confusion about the term “walkout.” Both PAT and PPS are encouraging each school community to organize an event, to take place outside on campus. Neither PAT nor PPS is encouraging educators or students to leave campus (without going through the proper field trip process).

We know that gun violence in America takes many forms, and that marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by gun violence. While the Parkland shooting has thrust this issue onto the national agenda, we need to advocate for ALL our students, ALL the time, especially our black and brown students who are already leading advocates on these issues.

With the nation’s attention focused on eradicating school gun violence, this is a tragic but teachable moment for our students – and for all of us.

In our role as union educators, we cannot legally encourage students to leave campus without permission. However, in preparing for March 14th, I am sure many of you are already planning to incorporate lessons from U.S. history that illustrate the power of civil disobedience and direct action—especially by young people—in creating lasting social change.

The District is encouraging educators to make it clear to our students that like them, we are grieving and angry about yet another mass school shooting. Everyone is also encouraged to spend time on age-appropriate lessons about what constitutes a safe, supportive classroom, to allow students to express their views, and affirm student engagement on this issue. 

As an educator, you should not feel obligated to lead conversations you do not feel ready to have. We are working with PPS to gather lessons, planned activities, and resources from other districts, both in Oregon and around the country, to make sure you are supported in addressing this difficult issue. We also know you can be a great resource for each other.

We would ask that you give some attention to planning and preparing for a visible, school-wide 17-minute event to begin at 10:00 AM. This IS supported by PPS and you should work with your building administrator to make it happen. The District has suggested that this could take the form of students and staff locking arms in a circle on the playground, families joining their students for a walk around the school grounds, or some other activity.  We hope educators can support students in taking the lead in shaping what this looks like in your building.

We also recommend wearing orange, which is a color associated with the national movement to address gun violence.

The District has prepared some guidelines/boundaries for administrators:

  • Let students talk openly about the events in Florida, and about creating a safe and inclusive environment of all students.
  • Model supportive, safe conversations.
  • Engage students in developmentally appropriate conversations about the societal issues connected to gun violence, and challenge them to convey complex ideas and information.
  • Recognize who may need extra support or counseling and make sure it is offered.
  • Honor the 17-minute observance or have a developmentally appropriate activity planned.
  • Allow students to express views, but make sure there is room for divergent opinions.
  • We cannot legally participate in or facilitate a walkout. If your students walk out, report this to your administrator and follow their directives.

In addition to District suggestions, we encourage you to make this a school-wide community event. This means reaching out to everyone in your building (custodians, classified, student teachers, etc.) and working with families to invite them and let them know what is taking place, as well as considering options for educators and students who do not wish to participate.

Thank you for everything you do for our students.In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen
PAT President