Durango School District 9-R is discouraging participation in a walkout Wednesday to protest gun violence at schools, but several parents say the walkout can help ease fears created after numerous school shootings across the country.
“I think giving our kids an outlet to express themselves – there’s a lot of frustration out there right now – is healthy. I don’t think that’s a problem,” said Jeremy Ham, who plans to attend a walkout at Escalante Middle School in support of his daughter.
Organizing largely on social media, students and adult supporters from across the country have planned a National School Walkout for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. across each time zone Wednesday to honor those killed in the massacre earlier this year at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and to protest gun violence.
Organizers encourage participants to wear orange.
Durango School District 9-R Superintendent Dan Snowberger said students participating in the walkout will not be stopped. Schools don’t want to prevent students from voicing their opinions, he said.
But because the event has been widely publicized on social media and the time and date of a large gathering of students is widely and publicly known, it creates a safety risk, he said.
“We want student, staff and teachers’ voices heard, but we just want them to be safe,” he said.
Snowberger said the district has planned several events and activities at the schools to memorialize the Parkland students and to allow students to voice their concerns about gun violence on campuses.
Alisha Hinkley, who has two children, one of whom will enter a Durango elementary school next year, said she understands Snowberger’s concern, but she thinks it can be dealt with effectively.
“If students want to participate in the walkout, they should sign a waiver, make it like a field trip,” she said. “The parent should state they either will be present or they won’t. Manage it like a field trip. On a field trip, anything could go wrong.”
Ruthie Uhl, a parent of a third-grader at a Durango school, said the walkout presents the same risk that exists at many school activities such as basketball and football games.
“When students let out at the end of every day, there’s a mass exodus,” she said. “What happens at 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. every school day?”
Uhl said she will pull her child out of Juniper School to participate in the nationwide walkout and join her child outside the school for 17 minutes.
“It’s hard to explain to an 8-year-old why someone would come into a school and shoot it up,” she said.
Uhl said schools must do more than lock doors to keep them safe.
“School shooters can shoot through locked doors,” she said.
She suggested increasing school security guards and installing metal detectors. Beyond what schools can do, Uhl also supports banning automatic rifles.
“There’s no need for those types of guns. Those aren’t the kinds of guns you are going to use to go out hunting,” she said.
A panel discussion about school safety will be held at 6 p.m. Monday in the Board Room of the Administration Building, 201 East 12th St.
After the panel, attendees will be allowed to offer their ideas and concerns about school safety.
Several alternative events are planned at schools during the same time as the national walkout, Snowberger said.
Activities will include reviews of school safety rules and art sessions for elementary-age students.
Middle and high schools will hold group discussions, assemblies and writing projects related to school safety.
Hinkley, who describes herself as an “emotional person,” said she broke into tears when she asked the principal of the school her daughter will attend next year about its security measures.
“I knew I was going to. It’s hard, I’m having to send my child out into a world of violence,” she said.