Wichita students wanting to protest gun violence by participating in a nationwide walkout this week are being encouraged to rally at lunchtime or after school instead.
In some surrounding districts, meanwhile, officials have arranged supervision for students during the walkout, which is planned for 10 a.m. Wednesday.
At Maize schools, employees and school resource officers "will provide supervision for students who intend to participate in a rally," said Lori O'Toole Buselt, spokeswoman for the Maize district.
"Students will not be punished for participating if they follow the guidelines outlined by the school to help keep the students safe," Buselt said. "The surrounding topic is one many are approaching as an opportunity to teach students about civic engagement."
Cory Gibson, superintendent for Valley Center schools, said his district does not sanction walkouts but acknowledges that students may want to participate in Wednesday's demonstration.
Activists speaking out in the wake of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are organizing nationwide school walkouts and marches to honor victims of school violence and encourage policy makers to implement measures to make schools safer. For the "#ENOUGH" walkout Wednesday morning, students and school staff plan to walk out of their classrooms for 17 minutes — one minute for each of the fatalities at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Valley Center students will be encouraged to remain inside the building during the walkout "as potential concerns arise once they exit the school," Gibson said in a statement issued to families of middle- and high-school students.
"We encourage families to visit with their students prior to the event and acknowledge the students' intentions are positive," Gibson said. "We believe civic engagement is important in our democracy, and are hopeful such engagement will occur in a manner that is both respectful of the school environment and . . . does not compromise the safety and well-being of our students and staff."
Wichita district officials said last week that "during the school day, the safest place that students should be is in school, in class, taking advantage of the gift of public education."
"What we do not want is (for) kids to be walking out of a building unsupervised, because . . . that is not a safe way to be able to get their voices heard," said Alicia Thompson, superintendent of Wichita schools.
Thompson and Steve Wentz, president of United Teachers of Wichita, said Wichita high schools will allow student-led rallies during the lunch hour or before or after school, supervised by staff.
Wichita students who walk out of class will be counted as tardy or absent and not excused. They will be allowed to re-enter the building, however, Thompson said.
"We can't support students leaving the building for a walkout demonstration," Thompson and Wentz said in a statement issued to employees and families.
Teachers and other school employees should remain on the job during any potential walkout or "face disciplinary action," they said.
"The responsibility we all have is to educate and support our students," the statement said. "It is absolutely NOT acceptable for any district staff member to participate in walkout activities that leave their students unsupervised."
Wichita teachers will not be punished for discussing current events or issues of civil disobedience with their students — even if the topic is outside the teacher's usual subject area, according to the statement.
"If you plan to engage your students in a discussion, you must plan to be respectful of all perspectives and ensure your students have an appropriate and civil discussion of the issue at hand," the statement said. "Any teacher who assists students participating in activities that engage in discussion and critical thinking will not be punished for deviating from the scope and sequence of their respective curricular area."
Another nationwide walkout is planned for April 20, the anniversary of a shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 12 students and a teacher in 1999. The National High School Walkout includes a Change.org petition and a Twitter account — @schoolwalkoutUS — and urges students to wear orange and walk out of class at 10 a.m. that day.