Whitefish Bay High School student on leading walkout: 'leadership from adults wasn't getting us anywhere'

A WhitefishBay High School student is organizing a student walkout in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
Samantha Hentzen, a senior at the school and the regional director of Women's March - Wisconsin, has organized dozens of students as part of a National School Walkout movement. She has events planned for March 14, one month after the Florida shooting, and possibly April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.
Hentzen said the students would stage a "die-in" in the lobby or outside the school in March, meaning students would lie on the ground as if they were dead for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the Parkland victims. 
They are also considering a full-day walkout on April 20 if they haven't seen legislation passed by then — or at least brought forward for consideration in congress or the state Legislature.
"I think that they had enough of leadership from adults that wasn't getting us anywhere," Hentzen said of the recent youth movements across the country. "I think they recognize it was the time for youth to lead if adults weren't going to, like Emma Gonzalez said."

Seeing the impact of the Florida shooting

Hentzen said she started to get involved after unsubstantiated shooter threats made via social media to Whitefish Bay Middle School on Feb. 16, and at her high school in November 2017.
The threats have students scared and nervous, she said. For example, when someone knocked on the door of her journalism classroom, people jumped, she said. 
A video about the Parkland victims deeply affected Hentzen. 
"It really showed that these were just regular kids," Hentzen said. "It had pictures of them from Snapchat. I think it just really hit home that this could be at my school. These could be pictures of people I've known since I was a preschooler. They could be the ones that were dead right now. Those two things combined just really brought it home that it could happen anywhere, and we need change now and what we've been doing since Columbine isn't working, so it's time to try a new approach."

Organizing the walkout

Hentzen said she started talking with her fellow Women's March of Wisconsinmembers in a group chat about the group supporting the walkouts and the possibility of doing something similar at her school. In class one day, she heard some other students talking about it. 
Hentzen decided to get things moving Feb. 20 after realizing how passionate students were on the topic.
"I got on Facebook, I got on Snapchat, and I just started messaging people who I knew had been really affected by it," Hentzen said. "I was like 'Hey, look, would you guys be interested in participating in this and helping me organize it?' "
She said that same day, she heard from about 60 people interested in helping to organize and participate in the event.
Once their plans are more solidified, Hentzen plans to go to the school board to see whether there's a way they can work with the administration on the protest. 
Hentzen said it's possible the school could penalize students for their involvement in the demonstration, but it's about priorities. 
"If 200 kids walk out of school or something like that, I think it's going to be hard for the school to follow through on any consequences they might want to bring," Hentzen said. "It's just something that we'll have to see as these move forward."
Hentzen also said teachers and faculty might plan something as well, but she didn't know details.
It is also uncertain what approach the Whitefish Bay School District might take.

Area district responses

One area district has already sent its parents a letter about its position on the walkouts.
Menomonee Falls School District Superintendent Pat Greco said in the letter the district doesn't advocate student demonstrations being held during school time, and cannot condone students walking out of school in an unsupervised environment while parents expect them to be in class. 
If a student chooses to leave school it would be considered an unexcused absence, unless parents provide permission, Greco said. That policy holds true for students participating in a walkout. Parents and school staff are partners in ensuring school safety, she said.
Since the Florida shootings, the Menomonee Falls School District has had countless conversations with parents, students and community members about school safety, Greco said.
Greco said the district continues to work with the Menomonee Falls Police Department to ensure national guidelines for safety are fully implemented. She added district officials are always willing to answer questions.
At Menomonee Falls High School, the district is hosting student focus groups on key topics.
"Our high school principals have checked in with each classroom to see if our students have any insights or questions we can answer. We welcome students to share their input, feedback and concerns with school staff at any time. We also encourage them to share their input with their state and national legislators," Greco wrote to parents.
Greco also said she and Menomonee Falls Police Chief Anna Ruzinski are planning for student and parent forums within the next month to share safety measures, answer questions and seek additional input.
"Our focus will remain student safety and an environment where it is safe to share student input," Greco wrote.
Other area districts are also looking at the issue.
Nicolet High School is not organizing or sponsoring a specific event, but is supporting students' and teachers' decisions to participate if they choose.
The Arrowhead Union High School District and Hamilton School District planned to talk about the issues the last week of February.
Cedarburg is also planning talks, but didn't give specifics. Grafton Schools Superintendent Jeff Nelson said he and high school principal Scott Mantei weren't aware of any student interest in the walkouts, but would find a way to work with students and parents if that changed.

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