BAR HARBOR — This week’s school-closing snowstorm prevented students at Mount Desert Island High School and other schools in the district from joining Wednesday’s nationwide walkout to protest gun violence in schools.
The plan at each school was to leave the building for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people, mostly students, who were killed by a shooter at a Florida high school last month. Student organizers at both Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Elementary have rescheduled their walkouts for today, Thursday. The high school walkout has been rescheduled for Friday.
The National School Walkout was organized by a group called “Women’s March Youth Empower,” which said on its website that it was asking students, teachers, parents and others to join the walkout to protest “Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”
Marc Gousse, superintendent of the MDI Regional School System, told the school board Monday that he had struggled over what position the schools should take on the planned walkout. He said he felt that they should neither encourage nor discourage student participation in the protest, but that he had a number of concerns, primarily related to student safety.
On Monday, he sent a letter to parents of all students in the school system and posted it on the system’s website. He said students who choose to take part in the walkout would not be disciplined and efforts would be made to ensure that the rights and opinions of those who don’t participate are respected.
Finian Burns, a high school freshman involved in organizing the walkout, told the school board Monday, “We’re not pressuring anybody into doing this. If somebody doesn’t do this, we’ll still be their friend. We have no intention of marginalizing anybody who doesn’t participate.”
Gousse, in his letter, listed several “administrative guidelines and expectations” for the planned student walkout. Those include limiting participation to students in grades 6-12, discouraging students from leaving school grounds and discouraging “spectators” from visiting the schools during the walkout “to ensure the safety of our students and schools.”
In addition, he said, staff members “are reminded to be cognizant of political boundaries and are expected to remain neutral and on school grounds so as to support all students … throughout the instructional day.”
Several school board members asked questions or expressed concerns about various aspects of Gousse’s position and the guidelines he issued. But only one, Scott Grierson, voiced opposition.
“I don’t think we should have any part of some outside group telling our kids to go march and then taking what our students have done and using it for their message,” he said. “That’s not why I send my kids to school. If they go to school, they should just go to school.”
Following discussion of the walkout, board member Caroline Pryor introduced a resolution regarding school security. It reads, in part: “Whereas, we believe in and support the U.S. Constitution and all of its amendments, including the Second Amendment’s rights for hunters and others to own and use appropriate firearms and … we believe common sense gun control measures must be enacted to protect the health, safety and security of all … and arming teachers and staff is not a responsible, appropriate or effective solution … .”
The resolution would commit the school board to ask elected officials at all levels “to enact common sense gun measures and other laws that meaningfully improve the health, safety and security of students, teachers, staff, first responders and others.” The resolution lists the types of preventive measures that should be enacted.
Grierson said he strongly supports the resolution.
“I think this is excellent; it seems like absolute common sense,” he said. “I’m a gun owner. I learned to shoot when I was 12. I’m as comfortable with a gun as anybody. And I absolutely 100 percent support this [resolution].
“If we can’t support a grassroots thing like this that seems pretty benign from this hunter’s perspective, I don’t get it.”
Several other board members indicated that they could support the resolution, but most wanted time to consider it. They agreed to place it on the agenda for their April 9 meeting.