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Some Bel Air High School students have indicated online they plan to participate in Friday's national walkout on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. Harford County Public Schools officials have warned of possible disciplinary action.
Some Bel Air High School students have indicated online they plan to participate in Friday's national walkout on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. Harford County Public Schools officials have warned of possible disciplinary action. (Aegis file/BSMG)

The Harford County Public Schools system has not changed its position regarding school walkouts which means students who plan to participate in the walkout scheduled for Friday will face disciplinary action, school system officials said.

Two local walkouts are planned at 10 a.m. on the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two teenagers killed 13 classmates before killing themselves.

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"The Walkout Against Gun Violence @BAHS" and "Joppatowne High School Columbine Anniversary Walkout" are listed as events on the website organizing the walkout, www.nationalschoolwalkout.net.

One student recently pleaded with school board members and Superintendent Barbara Canavan to allow her and her classmates to participate in Friday's walkout.

"About a month ago, there was a national high school walkout to protest school shootings. However, many of my fellow classmates could not participate as we received a letter from Mrs. Canavan stating that we may face disciplinary actions if we choose to walk out," North Harford High School junior Madison Ames told Canavan and the school board at their meeting April 9. "Because of this, I created a petition requesting that Mrs. Canavan amend her statement to permit students to participate in the national walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School."

The petition had more than 100 signatures, Ames said.

As students here and across the country are expected to participate in the next scheduled walkout against gun violence on April 20, Carroll County public school students will not be allowed to participate. Other area school systems, meanwhile, are still discussing how to handle the protest.

"While it is understood that the primary duty of the faculty and staff, and our supervisors is to keep us safe, let us not overlook their primary duty as our educators. Teachers and administrators possess the critical role of educating and inspiring generations of future leaders of this world, and thus, yield a great responsibility as some of the most influential people in our lives. The curriculum that includes inspiring us to pursue our passions and encouraging us to fight for what we believe in rivals, if not prevails over, the curriculum found in the syllabus," Ames read from the petition. "It is an injustice in itself, not only to discourage, but discipline what was at the core of our education. Therefore, we publicly request that Harford County public school students be granted permission to participate in the national school walkout on April 20, 2018 without punishment."

"Our position has not changed regarding walkouts," Jillian Lader, manager of communications for the school system, wrote in an email.

As some Harford students prepared last month for the nationwide March 14 walkout to prevent gun violence in schools and to honor the lives of the 17 people killed a month earlier at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Canavan sent a letter telling students "we cannot condone students leaving classes during the instructional day to participate in this activity."

Students who choose to leave school buildings "may be subject to disciplinary action for disrupting school operations," the letter ended.

On March 14, students participated in classroom "learning modules" to allow them to express their emotions about the Florida shootings.

In Harford County Public Schools that day, Lader wrote, "each middle and high school is prepared to honor those lives lost in school shootings with a moment of reflection and silence prior to the start of the instructional day."

Students did protest at some schools last month, notably Havre de Grace and C. Milton Wright high schools.

It's unclear if any of the students who participated at any of the schools were punished.

Lader said she can't comment on disciplinary actions taken against students.

Other schools in Maryland were also preparing for Friday's walkout.

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Carroll County Public Schools is not allowing its students to participate, Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said. While students were permitted to participate in the March 14 events, Guthrie said he's uncomfortable with how the student-led protests have become increasingly political.

In Baltimore City, students will not be punished for "peaceful participation," according to a spokesperson, while Howard and Anne Arundel counties were still working out how they would handle Friday's walkout.

Baltimore County school officials said students have the right to express themselves and "principals will receive guidance on working with their students, but safety is the top priority and following school system policies will be the base of the guidance."

Baltimore Sun Media Group writers Talia Richman and Emily Chappell contributed to this article.



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.
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