Oakland Mills High students walk-out to support administration policy change

About 400 students at Oakland Mills High School walked out of their classes and into the school stadium for about an hour Wednesday morning to support a change in school system policy some said would enhance communication of racial threats between the administration and community.

During the school's third period, students who walked out spoke about their school pride, while sharing information on an online petition addressing recent social media posts made by county students and recent incidents of racial conflicts. Superintendent Renee Foose, school board Chairwoman Cynthia Vaillancourt, Vice Chairwoman Bess Altwerger and other school staff attended the protest to listen to students' concerns.

Near the end of the protest, students were told to go back inside the school around 11:30 a.m. and the school was placed on a modified lockdown after receiving what school officials said was a threatening phone call from someone who said they were a parent and did not want their child participating.

In a school-wide letter released to parents today, the administration said lunches and afternoon classes will continue as well as after-school and evening events with added security.

"I was one of the organizers and participaters in the walkout today," said 17-year-old Matthew Gustafson, a senior at Oakland Mills. "In an uphill battle against the rules in place, it brings light and hope to students, like me, who work very hard to see the best of our school we love."

School spokesman John White said in an email Wednesday that the students' protest was "peaceful and admirable."

"The community can be proud of the students for expressing their concerns and wanting to ensure they are one student body, respectful and caring of every member of their school regardless of their background," White wrote.

According to a change.org petition created by HoCo Student Voice three days ago, students are asking that Foose and the Howard County school board make amendments to its Student Disciplinary Policy Statement so that the administration would be required to inform students and staff of any "direct or implied threat" made by another student. Once an investigation and/or disciplinary actions are reached, the petition reads, the administration must inform those involved of the decisions.

"Discretion is up to the administration, based on the severity of the threat, to share the decision if the lack of knowledge regarding the student's return is jeopardizing a safe and supportive school environment," the petition reads. "The educational records of the student will still be kept confidential in accordance to FERPA."

The petition has received 651 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

This story has been updated.

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