WATERVILLE — The Waterville Board of Education on Wednesday will consider allowing students to walk out of the school March 14 for 17 minutes as part of a nationwide student-led event to protest that not enough has been done on the national level to curb the sale and ownership of AR-15 assault weapons.

The 17-minute protest is being held in commemoration of the 17 students and staff killed in a shooting Feb. 21 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The board meeting will be at 6 p.m. in the Mid-Day Cafe at Mid-Maine Technical Center at Waterville Senior High School.

Eric Haley, superintendent of Alternative Organizational Structure 92, which includes Waterville schools, said Monday that the administration recommends school be recessed for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. March 14 for students who want to walk out of the school, but those who do not want to may stay in class where the teachers will continue teaching. After the walkout, a school-wide assembly will be held inside the school to talk about the pros and cons of the gun issue and focus on school safety.

Haley said everyone wants to ensure that students and staff are working together to make sure students are included and feel productive and part of his or her school, as one thing that has come out of school shootings is that the majority of shooters have been students who are disengaged from school and do not feel a part of it.

“We’re using it as a teachable moment,” Haley said. “Students have the right to their First Amendment, whether it’s political or not.”

Educators have limited First Amendment rights and can not say they are against free gun ownership while they are working, according to Haley, who said schools have to be very careful and not allow staff to take a position and proselytize. However, educators may work with students on student-led and initiated events to help make it a teachable moment, according to Haley.

“This student-led initiative is being led by a student who has participated in Seeds of Peace,” Haley said, adding that that organization emphasizes student activism and being involved in issues. Seeds of Peace brings youth from different countries together to foster understanding and help resolve international conflicts.

At least one school board member questions the board’s allowing students to walk out of the school for the event during school time. Julian Payne said Monday that if the board allows students to walk out for the event March 14, it sets a precedent for future walkouts and the board should approve every walkout planned in the future. He said he has had calls from some parents saying their children do not believe in the walkout but are afraid about how they will be perceived if they don’t participate. Payne said he is not “totally opposed” to the march but does not think the board should be making a decision.

“If they vote for this, I’m going to vote for every single march that comes across the desk afterward,” he said.

Payne also was critical of a bus trip that was planned for March 24 for students to go to Boston for a nationwide March For Our Lives, saying the identity of the person who offered to fund the trip but wished to remain anonymous should be revealed. He said that if he were to approve it, he’d want to know who was funding it. The board is charged with deciding whether out of state trips should be approved.

But Haley said Monday that the trip will not be to Boston after all, that there is a bus trip planned instead to Augusta where a similar march is being held. While the bus is being funded by the donor, the board does not have to consider approval of trips that are in-state, he said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Nick Isgro said that he does not believe it is the role of schools to promote political viewpoints and he has heard from some parents who say they are worried that their children might be ostracized if they opt out of the walkout on March 14. He said schools should focus on helping to make students feel safe, reaching out to those who feel ostracized and ensuring schools are places where people feel welcome and safe.

In other matters Wednesday, the board will hear presentations of proposed 2018-19 budgets for technology, school board, central office and special services.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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