Harford students told they can't walk out and join Wednesday's national protest of school violence

Harford County Public Schools students will not be allowed to walk out of school next Wednesday as part of the nationwide protest against violence in schools, according to a letter the superintendent distributed to students Thursday morning.


Instead, they will be presented a “learning module” through which they can express their opinions, Superintendent Barbara Canavan wrote.

At the private John Carroll School in Bel Air, rather than participate in a walkout on Wednesday, students will gather for a prayer service, a school spokesperson said.


The protest is a nationwide movement being organized by the group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER to call attention to the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 fatal shootings of 14 students and three staff members at a high school in Parkland, Fla.

Organized walkouts have already been planned at Harford Community College, Fallston High School, Aberdeen High School and Havre de Grace High School, according to the organization’s website, None of the walkout organizers at the three high schools could be reached for comment Thursday morning.

In her letter, which was dated March 7 — when schools were closed because of snow, Canavan wrote that she understands there are “raw emotions” among students, but “we cannot condone students leaving classes during the instructional day to participate in this activity.”

“It presents, paradoxically, a threat to student safety,” Canavan wrote.

Because the walkout has been widely publicized, any students who are outside could be more vulnerable to more violence, the superintendent explained, writing that the school system does not have adequate staffing and resources to supervise them if they leave their buildings.

Rather than permit students to walk out of school, the school system is preparing a “learning module,” according to the letter, “that will provide students with an opportunity to share their feelings about recent events across the nation and will allow them to speak about solutions in a structured way.”

The module will be presented at 10 a.m. Wednesday, the same time the walkout is scheduled, the letter states.

“Keeping students safe while they discuss their feelings surrounding the recent tragedy is our priority,” Canavan wrote. “This activity will provide a means for students of varying perspectives to engage in a positive dialogue while remaining in a safe and secure environment.”


The learning module, which will end with a moment of silence for the three adults and 14 students killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was prepared with input and review from administrators and curriculum specialists “to provide HCPS students with an opportunity to express their emotions surrounding the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida,” Jillian Lader, spokesperson for the school system, wrote in an email Thursday.

“The lesson is oriented toward traumatic events in general, although we expect students will speak to the Broward County [Florida] events,” Lader wrote. “Our objectives are to discuss the personal impact of experience with fear and uncertainty, to identify and discuss positive ways to cope with fear and uncertainty, and to develop readiness responses that will be shared with school administrators and consequently, with the superintendent.”

The activity, directed by teachers, will be done in the classrooms to ensure students can express their concerns in a safe environment, she said. Since not all students will want to participate, keeping them inside will allow school officials “to provide adequate supervision for ALL of our students, not just those inside or outside of their school,” she wrote.

“This experience is not to limit our students’ expression, but to provide a place to specifically discuss what happened and the impact of trauma in general on students and how we can support our students as we move forward. It is not a political lesson, and students may have varying views to express during the discussion.”

Students who choose to leave school buildings “may be subject to disciplinary action for disrupting school operations,” the letter ends.

The school system’s prohibition on student participation in the walkout “disappointed” Kimberly Lynch, the mother of a C. Milton Wright High sophomore, who sent her mother a copy of the letter she received Thursday.


In a letter Lynch wrote to Canavan, a copy of which was provided to The Aegis, she disagreed with Canavan’s characterization of “raw emotions.”

“First, these are not just ‘raw emotions.’ In fact, these emotions have had plenty of time to age. The events in Parkland may have renewed the anger, frustration and helplessness many of us feel, including our kids, but it’s certainly been on the minds of all of us for many years,” Lynch wrote. “Raw emotion is “I am shocked that thing happened”. Unfortunately, because nothing has changed, we are past that and now at ‘I’m no longer shocked, it’s a matter of where and when not if.’”

She questioned the school system’s learning module. She asked specifically what will be taught to the students, and pointed out that “no learning module could possibly be adequate at expressing our children’s feelings,” Lynch wrote.

“We teach them about their constitutional rights. 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 2nd 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,” she wrote.

Instead, she suggested allowing students to assemble on the school football field, or other designated area, and have teachers and staff to supervise them. Or ask parents or the PTA for additional backup to supvervise.

“I can’t speak to what students want in terms of structure, but they should be allowed to have input on what the protest or memorial would be,” Lynch said in a followup interview.


Her daughter asked Lynch last week if she would support her in a walkout, knowing it could have consequences.

“I told her ‘yes, we’re behind her 150 percent,’” Lynch said. “Because I think we’ve tried every other normal, expected, correct route of trying to create change and get the measures we need to to prevent this from happening again and nothing has been done. It if takes a shakeup to make this happen, then it’s worth it.”

Parents and students have written letters to politicians with no response, she said.

“If we get kids active and involved, and engaged, something will happen. These kids will be voters in a couple years,” Lynch said. “These kids are taking the bull by the horns, so good for them.”

Matt Resnik, student representative to the Harford County Board of Education, said he “completely 100 percent” agrees with Canavan on not allowing HCPS students to walk out. He said the learning modules “are the best action that we can take.”

“Walking out of classrooms, it’s just not appropriate,” Resnik, a senior at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air, said Thursday.


He said the module planned for next week is “actually, the best way for students to have their voices heard,” instead of walking out of class or going to Washington, D.C., and protesting outside the White House or in the halls of Congress.

“The best method is to contact your state and federal legislators and to do this activity that they designed, specially, so students can voice their concerns about the Parkland shooting and how we can address safety within our own school system,” Resnik said.

He also suggested holding moments of silence in school for the Parkland shooting victims.

Resnik said he has not heard of planned walkouts in his school or among his friends. If he does hear of students wanting to walk out, he would discourage them, Resnik said.

“Walking out of your classroom does not benefit anybody, including us,” he said.

Prayer service


At John Carroll, several students approached Principal Tom Durkin about participating in the March 14 walkout to show solidarity with their fellow students in Parkland, according to Kathy Walsh, director of marketing and communications for the school.

At John Carroll, where the administration strives to “always encourage our students to make an impact by living their values,” a prayer service has been planned to be held outside, weather permitting, at 10 a.m.

It “will last for 17 minutes to honor the memory of the 17 victims who tragically lost their lives,” Walsh said. “We are proud of our students for their passion and desire to make a difference, and fully support them in this effort.”

The service is being organized by sophomore Abby Earnest, who said she’s “really hoping to honor everyone who passed away in the recent shooting.”

She’s had a good response from students, who will gather on the football field for the service that will include a prayer, a reading of the names of the students and adults killed in Parkland and a moment of silence, she said.

“This is just something that’s a really big deal for me, I take pride in where I go to school,” Earnest said. “It’s important to for education to be facilitated safely and for people to want to go to school.”


Earnest said she feels safe in school, but the idea of violence is always in the back of her mind.

“Because it’s so random. Who knew that someone would go into that school and shoot a bunch of people,” she said.

Zac Ufnar, a sophomore religion teacher and director of mission and ministry at John Carroll, said the school as a whole is very responsive to its students.

“When someone like Abby comes forth with an idea … and wants to be able to give a voice and recognize those who lost their lives,” the school tries to help with that, Ufnar said. “We’re also bringing awareness to something that affects a lot of folks and are making that opportunity available to the rest of the John Carroll community.”

HCC walkout

Harford Community College student Nicholas Maivelett is organizing a walkout on campus, where he expects about 100 students to gather Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the student center.


After the names of the people killed are read aloud, students will have time to speak about what they think should be done, he said.

He wants to do this in the spirit of the people who were killed in Parkland and as a call to action, he said.

“From my experience, I feel like every kid who was born after Columbine has a shadow over our head of a school shooting,” Maivelett, a C. Milton Wright graduate who is in his second year at HCC, said.

Maivelett referred to a school shooting that took place at Columbine High School in Colorado, on April 20, 1999, during which 13 people died.

It’s apparent politicians aren’t doing anything to stop it, he said, so it’s up to someone else.

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


This story has been updated.