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It's been fascinating to watch how school districts around the nation and in the mid-valley have been preparing for the prospects of student walkouts today, the one-month anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, Florida.

It's a tricky balancing act for school administrators and trustees: How do you juggle students' First Amendment rights while, at the same time, minimizing the disruption to the normal school day? How do you handle the students who choose not to join the walkout? How do you ensure safety? Should administrators and school boards endorse the walkouts? 

Mid-valley school districts are trying to thread the needle as well, but we're not sure that any of them have found quite the right balance. We'll know more after 10 a.m. today, when students start their 17-minute walkout — one minute for every victim killed in the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. 

We still value the idea of local control of our schools, so it's no surprise that mid-valley districts are all over the map in terms of how they plan to react to the walkout.

On one hand, you have the Corvallis School District board, which unanimously approved a resolution supporting students who participate in both today's walkout and the "March for Our Lives" event scheduled for Corvallis at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 24.

"We are following them," said school board member Terese Jones. "We should not insert ourselves into their message on an issue that we have failed to lead on."

Despite that, one wonders how the school board would react if it's approached by students who want to, let's say, stage a walkout in support of the Second Amendment. 

On the other hand, students in Sweet Home who participate in the walkout will face the same sort of sanctions that would be imposed against any student who leaves a classroom without permission. "Regarding walkouts, our job is to teach students, have them in school supervised and participating in learning," said Tom Yahraes, the Sweet Home superintendent.

And there's something to be said for that approach, although it doesn't fully take into account that the walkout involves an issue that really should transcend politics or protest: The idea that schools should be places where everyone should be safe. (And, truth is, that's almost always true. But you can see how massacres like the ones in Parkland would affect students on a personal level.)

It took Albany school officials too long to settle on their approach: The district said it would designate Wednesday as "School Safety Day," which allowed rumors to spread about how Albany schools would hold lockdown drills at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Parents told the school board Monday that those plans came across as a clumsy and tone-deaf way to block students who planned to join the protest.

The district, to its credit, has modified its directions and now is urging schools to set aside supervised places, such as a gym, library or classroom, for students to observe the 17-minute walkout. Micah Smith, the chairman of the school board, emphasized that the district cannot endorse the walkout.

We think Lebanon has come closest to striking just the right balance: Students can participate in the walkout if they choose and will not be disciplined for doing so. Students will be directed to a safe place to assemble. Teachers will not participate in the walkout; they will continue to teach. Students will be supervised by administrative and classified staff. 

On some level, it has to be gratifying for school officials and teachers to see their students engaged in the world; such engagement is one of the goals of any good education system. But that engagement shouldn't come without serious thought as students, teachers and administrators seek the right approach to a complicated equation. (mm)


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