On the eve of a planned walkout by Elizabethtown Area High School and Middle School students to honor victims of the Florida school shooting, a Bainbridge mother expressed concern to the Elizabethtown school board that the students would be participating in what she called a “highly political” event organized by the “left-wing” Women’s March network.
At the start of the workshop meeting on Tuesday, March 13, Superintendent Michele Balliet told the board that students in grades seven through 12 could participate, if they chose, in the nationwide event, held one month after 17 people died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
Balliet said the ceremony, planned entirely by students, was meant to raise awareness of school safety issues and would be “politically neutral,” as described in a student-written purpose statement. It would include the signing of a banner to send to the Parkland school.
Georgia Neff of Bainbridge questioned the event’s neutrality, saying that the women’s organization is open about protesting guns. She also questioned allowing students to leave class.
The school, she said, should instead teach students “responsible ways within the civil process to go about enacting change,” such as petitions, letters to Congress, debates and researching issues.
“By hopping on a national bandwagon, you’re teaching kids that emotions trump fact and rules and that they should do whatever it is they feel like doing,” Neff said.
And, she asked: “How is condoning this event not dividing students? What about those who want to honor victims but don’t want to be associated with protesting the constitutional right to bear arms that is being done by the same action of walking out in the same place – school – on the same day?”
By allowing the walkout to coincide with an event “created by a highly political, left wing anti-Constitution organization, you are joining their cause, whether you admit it or not,” Neff said.
Board member Menno Riggleman, speaking as a citizen on security, said that gun owners should be urged to store guns securely in gun safes, rather than in less secure gun cabinets with glass doors.
At the action meeting on Tuesday, March 17 the board plans to consider approving a student school safety survey that was developed by students.
In other business, the board learned that the district will receive a $5,000 donation from St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Elizabethtown to be used for mental health screenings.
Business manager George Longridge discussed the 2018-19 budget and proposed capital spending, totaling $899,000. He also said that previously, one million dollars was set aside for rising pension costs, which have leveled off. He suggested that money could be “repurposed” to make school facilities more secure.
Additionally, Balliet commented on a March 8 Advocate article about the district’s financial challenges, including a high percentage of tax-exempt properties, such as Masonic Village. Balliet wanted to acknowledge that Masonic Village gives the district more than $1 million of payment in lieu of taxes.