Students across Minneapolis walked out of their schools for 17 minutes on March 14 to advocate for school safety one month after a gunman killed 17 people at a Florida high school.
Hundreds of students walked out, with many staying silent as they circled their buildings. At some schools, parents and community members linked arms to show their support.
“We were just all really proud of them,” Lake Harriet Upper School Principal Walter Schleisman said of his students, who are in grades 4–8. “We were proud of them that they were able to take part and have a voice, but at the same time they were respectful and understanding of people’s rights not to participate.”
The walkouts came a week after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton pitched a $20.9 million plan to enhance school safety and provide mental-health services to students who need added support. It also came several days after a bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers announced a bill to expand background checks on gun sales in the state.
Locally and nationally, high school students have been leading the push for new gun control measures, with a march in Washington D.C. planned for March 24.
State Rep. Frank Hornstein applauded the high school students leading the efforts, adding that there wouldn’t be any movement on gun-safety laws without them.
“They are moving the needle,” he said, noting that young people have fueled great social movements in the past. “They’re waking up the country.”
Hornstein said he thinks the governor’s proposed measures make sense and added that he thinks they should be part of a comprehensive approach to gun control. That approach should include an assault-weapons ban, more background checks and protection orders, he said.
“We can’t just look at schools in isolation,” he said, stressing that he thinks arming teachers would be a bad idea.
Schleisman said that the walkout at his school was neutral in terms of political stances, noting a theme of school safety and “treating each other with kindness.”
“It really ties into our normal social-emotional learning goals, which are about treating each other with respect and kindness and looking out for people that need help,” he said.
Schleisman said that students came up with the idea for the walkout, adding how impressed he was that the students remained silent the whole time. He said the school was able to make the walkout age appropriate for both its younger and older students.
At Burroughs Community School, a group of parents and community members linked hands outside of the building at 10 a.m. to show support for walkouts happening around the country. Parent organizer Margaret Gordon Schloegel said the goal was to show the government that parents care and want change.
“We hope there never, ever is a tragedy in this country again that requires such an outpouring,” she wrote in an email after the event.
Security cameras, single-point entrances
After the Feb. 14 shooting, Minneapolis Public Schools’ Operational & Security Services division reminded staff of security measures and checked to make sure all physical measures were functioning, said Jason Matlock, the division’s director.
Those features include security cameras, single-point entrances and buzzer systems, among others, he said.
The district highlighted the work of Matlock’s division in an online document in the days after the shooting. The document noted how the division assesses buildings for security, assesses threats made against schools, partners with the Minneapolis Police Department on the school resource officer program and monitors emergency drills.
Matlock said the district uses a multi-disciplinary approach to security that takes into account the designs of specific buildings and environments. His division works with police and outside security experts, he said, and takes advice from the Council of Great City Schools, a national consortium of urban school districts.
Matlock said good school security is a balance between having good physical barriers and maintaining more welcoming aspects of a given building. He said security plans are slightly different from building to building but noted the security features, such as single-point entrances, that are ubiquitous across the district.
Matlock added that the district is fortunate to have many nearby “law enforcement assets,” such as the Minneapolis Police Department, noting that more suburban and rural schools don’t have that saturation. He also noted the availability of ambulances and medical personnel during a February incident in which a person who appeared armed was seen entering Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis. The school was locked down, but there were no gunshots and no one was injured.
Julie Young Burns, the district’s social-emotional team coordinator, said in an email that administrators consult with the district’s student support staff if a student shows signs of violent behavior. Staff will assess how acute the situation is, she said, and begin to create immediate and longer-term support plans.
Support plans should include what skill coaching needs the student may have and what restorative supports can be started to help repair harmed relationships, Young Burns said. They also should help rebuild connection to the classroom community.
Twin Cities push
Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, said districts across the Twin Cities have been working hard for several years to install security upgrades. Those have included secured entrances, security cameras, upgraded doors and potentially bulletproof glass in certain areas, he said.
There’s also been an emphasis on addressing children’s mental health and trying to provide support staff, he added.
Croonquist said the latest shooting created a sense of urgency among lawmakers, adding that he thinks they could allocate more funding to school safety. But he said lawmakers likely won’t completely fulfill districts’ needs with their allocations.
He also said his organization is urging lawmakers to give districts flexibility to address their own security needs at the local level.