Students participating in walkouts spurred by a recent school shooting will not be punished by administrators, the Natrona County School District announced Monday.
The statement comes two days ahead of a planned walkout at Natrona County High School, where student organizers intend to use the demonstration to show solidarity with school shooting victims and not as a political stance on gun control. The students, organized under the Casper Youth for Change, said they expect more than 50 students to walkout of class Wednesday morning.
The protest is planned to last 1,606 seconds, representing the reported number of mass shootings that have occurred nationwide since the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
Last week, organizers said they weren’t sure if they would be punished for the demonstration. While the walkouts have become more common across the country as its reels from another school massacre, there has been pushback from some administrators. In one Texas district, for instance, the superintendent threatened protesting students with suspension.
In Natrona County, district officials wrote that while participants will be recorded as absent to ensure “the school is able to account for those who are present and/or absent, thus ensuring student safety.”
“Those who choose not to report back to class in a timely manner will be marked as an unverified absence and may face appropriate disciplinary consequences, per district policy,” the statement continues.
Superintendent Steve Hopkins said last week that he hadn’t heard of any planned walkouts but that his initial reaction wasn’t to punish students.
The NCHS walkout was originally planned to take place on the high school’s front lawn, but an organizer said it was likely to be moved to the football field.
“Administrators will be working with student leaders to determine a location on school campuses for those electing to participate,” the district’s statement said. “The walkouts are student-led and will be coordinated in conjunction with school administrators to keep students safe while respecting their choice to share their voice. Local law enforcement will have an increased presence in the areas of high school campuses during the planned walkout with the goal of keeping students safe.”
District spokeswoman Tanya Southerland said she hadn’t “been made aware of any other planned events in the district” as of Monday afternoon.
The organizers of the NCHS walkout stressed the event is being held in solidarity with victims.
“No one should have to go to school in fear,” the organizers wrote in a letter distributed to school staff last week.
Their march is also separate from the nationwide walkout set for March 14, the four-week anniversary of the shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead at the hands of an assault weapon-wielding gunman.
That’s intentional, the students said: They don’t want to take a stance for or against gun control. The March 14 walkout has been sparked by survivors of the Florida shooting. Those students have repeatedly called for stricter gun control.