Springdale district allows remembrance ceremony after Florida shooting

SPRINGDALE -- High school students this morning will be able to take part in a remembrance ceremony for recent school shooting victims during their daily advisory period, district administrators said Tuesday evening.

It's a middle-of-the-road approach to a nationwide demonstration against gun violence being held a month after 17 students and staff members were shot to death at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Student activists in several places plan to walk out of class for 17 minutes in honor of each victim.

Northwest Arkansas school responses have varied. Fayetteville High School, on one hand, plans to allow students to take part in the demonstration around the school's campus at 10 a.m. but expects them back in class at the end. On the other, Bentonville's School Board decided Monday students who participate will be marked absent and receive detention per district policy.

Jared Cleveland, deputy superintendent for personnel and support services, told Springdale's board during its meeting giving Springdale High School and Har-Ber High School students the opportunity to use their voices while not disrupting class is the most appropriate choice. Daily advisory periods generally give high school students time to read, catch up on homework or work on club projects in the morning, district spokesman Rick Schaeffer said.

Today's advisory period will give time to read statements about each of the 17 victims, Cleveland said. Students won't be required to attend.

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"It's our obligation and responsibility to listen but, at the same time, to help them understand that they have a responsibility with their own voice," Cleveland said of the students. "I believe kids will honor the intent."

Schaeffer said students who walk out of school anyway will be violating district policy and could receive disciplinary action at the discretion of their principals.

The national walkout is one of several recent and planned protests around the topic of gun violence. Several students at the Florida high school have rallied in support of stricter rules for buying assault-style rifles and other measures, which are opposed by the National Rifle Association and many conservatives.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, this month credited the students with building support for a bill he signed to require gun buyers to be at least 21 and wait three days to receive the weapons, according to The Associated Press. The NRA then sued the state, claiming the new law violates the Second Amendment.

School safety in general is on the mind of every educator and parent in the country, Springdale Superintendent Jim Rollins said Tuesday.

Cleveland told the Springdale board the district is constantly tweaking and streamlining its safety plans in case of fires, extreme weather and active shooters. The board will learn more detail about the plans during its regular work session next month.

The board Tuesday also touched on another hot topic, an Arkansas bill to let parents spend certain income tax-exempt savings accounts that were originally meant for higher education on kindergarten-12th grade expenses as well. The bill is up for debate during a special session that began Tuesday. Its supporters say the change is simply to match the federal tax bill passed in Congress last year.

District staff attorney Kendra Clay said it's not clear that public school students and their families could benefit because the federal bill says it applies to tuition specifically. Public schools don't charge tuition, so the benefit would go to private schools. That might change as the bill is formally codified into law, Clay added.

Board member Mike Luttrell called the Arkansas bill "troubling" because of the slant toward private schools. Rollins after the board meeting said the bill should come up during a regular session instead of a special one that could last a few days only.

"You can have public hearings, you can get input" in the regular process, Rollins said.

NW News on 03/14/2018

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