When Cape High students asked their principal if they could participate in a March 14 walkout protesting gun violence in schools, school officials gave them permission – one of the first schools in Delaware to do so.
“We wanted to make sure we were ahead of it and make sure things were as safe as possible for our students,” said Superintendent Robert Fulton.
Fulton said students who want to participate in the walkout are allowed to; teachers will not participate other than to ensure the safety of students. Fulton said National Education Association guidelines require teachers remain neutral during student political protests.
Cape High's Code of Conduct allows students to organize peaceful, political protests with approval from the school principal. Fulton said Principal Nikki Miller gave students permission for the March 14 walkout. He also said that if students want to have a pro-gun rally, they would go through the same approval process.
For now, Fulton said, administrators are working out safety details for the event. “We want to minimize the time students will be out of the classroom, and get them back in the classroom,” he said.
In a letter sent to parents March 7, Fulton said Cape High administrators, the school resource officer and staff will work together to ensure student safety. Any staff member involved in the walkout will do so for safety purposes only, he said, adding there are no plans for walkouts at other Cape Henlopen School District schools.
“Student involvement with the walkout is by no means a district endorsement,” he said. “It is simply a means for the district to provide a safe, structued and orderly environment for all students at Cape Henlopen High School.”
Parent Kathi Kaier said she is concerned the district is setting a precedent for political protests that will disrupt the school day.
“This is a political protest on gun control and should not be allowed during school time, disrupting the education process,” Kaier said. “If allowed, then students can protest anything they want by walking out and not be punished. After all, if it’s OK for one cause it’s OK for all.”
No decision has been made on what students will do if they do not wish to participate in the walkout. Fulton said he has received two emails and a few phone calls from parents concerned about the walkout. Within Cape High, he said, it has been quiet.
John Dean, president of Cape Henlopen Education Association, said teachers will work under the direction of their principal. “These duties may involve supervising students who are and are not participating in the protest,” he said.
Cape's teachers' union voted in February to support safe schools, but the union was specific about ending gun violence without infringing upon the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens, Dean said.
The CHEA plans to hold a rally at a later date in support of safe schools, but the event will be held after the school day, he said.
Fulton said a rumor that students not participating will be sent to the cafeteria is not true.
“Students who choose not to participate will remain in their classrooms,” he said. “It made more sense for us to make the environment safe for the students to do what we believed they were going to do, versus trying to say you aren't doing this.”
The walkout comes on the one-month anniversary of shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., that claimed the lives of 17 students. The walkout is scheduled to last 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 students who were killed.
Cape's walkout is being held at the same time and date as national walkouts supported by Women's March Youth Empower – an initiative based on principles of the Women's March platform which encourage students make a positive impact in their communities and to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to prevent violence in schools. However, Cape is not listed among the schools participating in the national event.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with district information