Schools strike compromises with students ahead of school walkouts

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Students around the nation are planning to walk out of classes Wednesday to protest gun violence. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Students around the nation are planning to walk out of classes Wednesday to protest gun violence. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Steve Kilar is with the ACLU of Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News) Steve Kilar is with the ACLU of Arizona. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News)
School students protest gun violence. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News) School students protest gun violence. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5 News)

Students at Mountain Ridge High School wanted to go big for Wednesday morning's national school walkout in response to the shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Organizers Jacob Sumner and Rylee Tinnel envisioned a throng of students marching down the sidewalk adjacent to campus, carrying a large sign next to the passing cars on 67th Avenue.

They even reached out to the City of Glendale to ensure the police knew of their plans, they said.

But school administrators moved quickly to scale back the demonstration. Going off-campus would be grounds for suspension, they told the students. Any seniors who took part could be blocked from taking part in graduation.

Graduation "is a big, momentous thing for so many people," said Tinnel. "We couldn't go about it in a way that was going to scare people off from voicing their opinions."

In the end, the two sides reached a compromise. Students who walk out of class at 10 a.m. will have approximately four minutes to reach the football field. There they will have 17 minutes to demonstrate for the 17 Parkland shooting victims. Then they'll have four minutes to return to class, Tinnel said.

Students who abide by the time restrictions, remain on campus, and do not engage in "disorderly conduct" will not be disciplined, said Deer Valley Unified spokeswoman Monica Allread. She said schools consider an off-campus protest a safety risk.

Administrators at Boulder Creek High School also worked with students on a protest plan, Allread said.

The district sent out a letter to parents Monday outlining its policies ahead of the demonstration. She noted that teachers will continue teaching in their classrooms and students who participate in the walkout will have to make up any missed schoolwork.

Across the country, the Parkland school walkouts are forcing public schools to walk a tightrope between their students' First Amendment rights to protest and their own legal obligation to keep kids safe. Students in private school do not have the same First Amendment protections on their campus.

"The most important thing for students to remember is that yes, the school can punish you if you violate their policies, but they can't punish you any more harshly based on what it is you're saying," said Steve Kilar of the ACLU of Arizona.

Kilar said schools have to stick to their existing disciplinary policies and can't scale up threats of punishment. Some schools in other states have threatened to suspend students over any type of protest.

"Certainly I can understand why school administrators are nervous about large numbers of students walking out at the same time," Kilar said. "But that doesn't give the school the authority to punish the students any more harshly than if they were leaving class one by one."

"The punishment [should be] for an unexcused absence, whether it's for a mass walkout or to get ice cream with a friend," he added.Allread said Deer Valley Unified schools would discipline students who fail to meet the terms of the compromise according to the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook. Schools oppose off-campus protests for safety reasons, she said.

Although disappointed by the restrictions, the student organizers at Mountain Ridge say the compromise has its benefits. "We do get a speaker system. Before that, it would have been very hard to communicate," said Tinnel with a laugh.

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Derek StaahlDerek Staahl is an Emmy Award-winning reporter and fill-in anchor who loves covering stories that matter most to Arizona families.

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Derek Staahl

This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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