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MPS Safety, Security and Student Walkouts

Dear MPS Families, 

More than three weeks later our hearts continue to grieve for the Parkland, Florida, community and the families who lost loved ones in the tragic school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  The shooting there and a general increase in threats of school violence have impacted people throughout our country. While we have policies in place to keep our students as safe as possible, many people are wondering what else can be done.

Across the nation and here in Minneapolis, students have been especially active in speaking out on the issue of school safety, and have organized a number of activities in response to the shooting. I am encouraged that MPS students who have chosen to participate in these activities, which have included walk-outs, have done so peacefully. They have notified their building principals in advance, which has allowed us to work with local law enforcement agencies to help ensure their safety once they leave campus.

As you may have read or heard, there is a student-led plan to hold nationwide 17-minute school walkouts - one minute for each person who was killed - on Wednesday, March 14, beginning at 10 a.m., the one-month anniversary of the tragic Parkland shooting.  

As educators, part of our role is to help our students learn how to actively engage in civic conversations and the importance of being engaged in our democratic process. As we consider our District’s role in supporting our secondary students, staff and community on March 14 and beyond, we believe there are opportunities to incorporate the current national discussion into instruction. Not only is this good educational practice, but also it creates a space supported by our value of social and emotional learning (SEL) for students to process events such as this and make meaning within tragedy. Because our primary focus must be student instruction, MPS cannot condone weekly or even monthly walk-outs, although we continue to encourage our students’ interest in expressing their ideas and opinions.

Because we believe the events of March 14 will provide a focused opportunity for student voice on an important civic issue that is bipartisan in nature, each of our secondary schools has been asked to work with student leaders to create a voluntary activity that allows students and staff to mark the 17-minutes observance on that day. Students who participate in these activities – and do not leave the school property – will be expected to return to classes once the walkout ends at 10:17 a.m.

MPS respects students’ First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, and we will not discipline students for the act of protesting as long as the protest remains peaceful. The best way for us to ensure student safety during the school day is to know where our students are—that’s simply not possible once they leave school grounds. For that reason our normal policies regarding student attendance and walkouts will continue to apply for those students who leave the school campus, for this or any other protest.

Finally, some of our families have asked about the involvement of our elementary schools. Elementary principals and teachers will find age-appropriate ways to be responsive to students that are suitable for their interest in the topic. Parents who want to participate in activities at our elementary schools are encouraged to speak with the school principal to ensure that no students are unintentionally exposed to subjects that they or their parents feel are not developmentally appropriate for them to experience.

Sincerely, 

Ed Graff

Superintendent