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Santa Monica-Malibu Public School Leaders Give Blessing to Student Walkouts
By Niki Cervantes
February 26, 2018 -- In what appears to be an unusual move, the Santa Monica-Malibu public school system is giving its blessings to the class-room walkouts and other protests at campuses next month calling for gun control.
The demonstrations are being organized by students, educators and others in the midst of an intensifying call for gun control nationwide started by the survivors of the school shootings at a high school in Parkland, Florida nine days ago.
The shootings left 17 dead and 14 hospitalized. The FBI and Broward County Sheriff's office received warnings that the gunman, expelled student Nikolas Cruz, was possibly planning a school shooting but failed to act on the tips.
District officials in Santa Monica are “encouraging students, teachers and their allies to walk out of schools on March 14 to protest gun violence,” said Ben Drati, superintendent of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) in a post to the district’s online site.
“We want to let students, parents and community members know that we respect our students’ rights to engage in civic discourse in a safe and productive manner," Drati announced.
"We are encouraging our school site administrators to plan age-appropriate activities on campus that may coincide with the dates above or as schedules allow,” he said. “We have joined the movement.”
The message specifies the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER -- organized by the organization that sponsored the large-scale protests the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration and a year afterwards -- set for March 14.
Organizers are asking students and allies to walk out of class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, or one minute for each of the people killed in the Parkland shooting.
It also mentions a national protest organized by survivors of the Parkland shooting planned for March 24, and another walkout on April 20 -- a date marking 19 years since the deadly shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.
But school administrators in general have been quiet for the most part about students leaving class or engaging in any disruptions to protest the shootings or in support of the movement for gun control.
One Texas official threatened students with who participate in such actions with a three-day suspension.
Drati outlined the ways students and educators can participate in the movement.
“For secondary schools, administrators may work with their student bodies, through ASB, to develop student-led events or activities based on students’ needs,” the superintendent said.
“We want to ensure that youth voices are empowered and supported."
At the district’s elementary schools, “events may include activities that promote peace, tolerance, mindfulness and kindness,” or possibly a bully-prevention rally, Drati said.
“We are working in partnership with our Santa Monica-Malibu PTA Council leadership as they activate as powerful advocates for our children, both locally, in California and nationally,” he said.
Drati said SMMUSD’s board of education will discuss a resolution at its March 1 meeting titled “In Support of Common Sense Gun Laws.”
The resolution calls on state and federal elected officials to pass legislation outlawing the manufacture, sale, use, or storage of semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity ammunition magazines and other lethally-enhancing devices.
The resolution also asks for laws that would require background checks for all purchases of guns and ammunition, raise the age to purchase such items to 21 and deny those with violence protection orders to purchase or have access to guns and ammo “who through mental health diagnoses could be considered a danger to themselves and others.”
In addition it calls for adequate funding to “expand existing trainings, including threat assessment, and interventions for at-risk students and continued bullying prevention programs."
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