For the kids [Editorial]

What too often is forgotten in nearly every conversation, every debate, every disagreement and every single dollar spent on ours and every other school system is all of that effort is for the kids.

In most instances, the grownups have the education, the experience and the maturity to know best. They should be the ones deciding how the education system operates.

There are instances, however, when the kids should be heard and efforts made to at least answer their questions and address their concerns. On some occasions, the grownups should not only heed their views, but also incorporate some of them into the program.

Today is one of those days. There are walkouts planned at schools across the United States as a show of solidarity not only for the 17 people killed Feb. 14 in a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., but also to show the country that our students are fearful about how safe they are in school while remaining hopeful that will change.

Harford County Public Schools, in another misstep, made clear it wasn’t going to allow students to walk out of class.

“It presents, paradoxically, a threat to student safety,” Barbara Canavan, superintendent of Harford County Public Schools, wrote in a letter to students distributed to students March 8.

The school system is offering so-called learning modules that will allow students to share their feelings in a classroom setting as an alternative to walkouts.

In Canavan’s letter, which also referenced “raw emotions” because of the Parkland shooting, she wrote her decision was all about the safety of the students.

“Keeping students safe while they discuss their feelings surrounding the recent tragedy is our priority,” Canavan’s letter said.

We understand a school system’s need to manage students and their movements as a key element of school safety. We are at the front of the line of those who think providing a safe, secure environment for teaching and learning should be the school system’s top priority.

But using safety as the excuse for prohibiting walkouts is disingenuous coming from a school system whose buildings are not as secure they should be and one that routinely exposes its students and staff to the outside world during the school day.

Whether it’s Havre de Grace High School that for generations has had separate buildings divided by Congress Avenue, or elementary school campuses with separate buildings, remnants of the day when kindergarten operated in satellite pods, or in the days portable classrooms were necessary, students and staff are too often exposed to the outside world on their campuses daily.

Required fire drills, after school activities, including sports practices, daily arrivals and dismissals also expose students.

Harford County Public Schools could have followed the example by the John Carroll School in Bel Air, which is working with its students and holding an outdoor prayer service in response to the walkout. Anything would be better than just telling kids, “nope, we won’t allow it.” Others disagree with the school system’s ham-handed decision, too.

“We teach [students] about their Constitutional rights,” Kimberly Lynch, the mom of a C. Milton Wright High School student, wrote to Canavan. “We teach them that all great changes have grown from small protests and movements that took root in regular citizens like them. We tell them the Second Amendment right ‘shall not be infringed, so there’s not much to be done to stop these shootings, but then we ask them to give up their Constitutional rights to speech, assembly and protest in the name of ‘school safety.’ That is insanity.”

Nicholas Maivelett, a Harford Community College student who graduated from C. Milton Wright, lived quite the lesson about being a student in fear of being shot.

“I feel like every kid who was born after Columbine has a shadow over our head of a school shooting,” he said.

The walkout is important he said because it will keep attention on the issue “that seems to always pop up and we don’t seem to do anything about it.”

In Harford County Public Schools, students wanted to honor kids just like them, who were murdered for the crime of going to school. The Harford kids wanted to do something, but the grownups said “no.” Harford County Public Schools should be ashamed for not providing better leadership at such a critical time.

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