A gun violence walkout planned at all Billings public high schools on March 14 won’t be endorsed by School District 2, but schools are developing a plan to ensure the protests are a “teachable moment.”
Superintendent Terry Bouck didn’t say whether students who participate in the planned 17-minute walkout will face punishments for leaving the classroom, citing recommendations that are still being finalized.
“Our students have the right to free speech, and that right is not extinguished when they enter their schools. The District's responsibility is to allow them to do so in as safe and efficient manner as possible,” he wrote in an emailed newsletter.
School safety concerns dominated School District 2’s board meeting Monday night almost two weeks after a Florida school shooting.
School staff will continue teaching students not participating in the walkout, the newsletter said. They will take roll before and after the walkout to see if students return to class.
“It’s going to be a teachable moment,” Bouck said in an interview, both for students who choose to participate in the protest and those who do not. “I think there’s two separate learning experiences there.”
Students will be required to stay on campus, and any visitors — including media — will not be allowed on campus, Bouck said. Schools will bring in extra staff to supervise the walkout.
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The newsletter emphasized the district does not take a position on “such issues,” and a memo to school staff explicitly bars them from participating in the walkout.
“Legally, staff does not have the right to participate,” Bouck wrote in the memo. “Every employee of Billings Public Schools is to refrain from taking part in any fashion. Our kids come from many different backgrounds and have many different beliefs. As part of the educational system, we cannot impose our own thoughts and views.”
The president of the Billings teachers union was not immediately available to comment. Bouck said he’s in the process of meeting with school staff about the topic.
The walkouts are part of a national movement, March for Our Lives. A group of local students from West, Skyview and Senior high schools have been planning walkouts in each of those schools calling for "legislation that protects schools against gun violence." The students are also planning a public march on March 24.