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State Department of Education supports student walkouts

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HILO >> The Hawaii Department of Education has said it will support students who plan to participate in the planned nationwide school walkouts in protest of gun violence.

The department last week advised schools to designate walkout areas, saying it “supports students’ constitutional rights to a peaceful assembly and free expression,” the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

But students who leave campus during the event will be marked as unexcused or absent, the district said.

The March 14 walkouts are organized under the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER organization. The walkouts are scheduled to last 17 minutes to honor the 17 people killed last month in the Florida high school shooting.

Some schools across the country have discouraged participation. A Texas school district said it will suspend any student who participates in a walkout.

“Even though Hawaii does have strict gun laws, we just don’t want something like that to happen in our school,” said Keaau High School sophomore Wilmer Agpaoa, who is spearheading the walkout at his school.

Hilo High School is allowing students to gather on the campus patio during the designated walkout time and read aloud any comments they have about school safety or gun violence.

Waiakea High School will pass out paper butterflies to students and encouraging them to write out their “goal” on how to make others feel included, student body president Leira Joyce Vea said.

In the Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area, schools were advised to draft their own plan according to how they think is best, Superintendent Art Souza said.

“Some schools might just attach 17 minutes to an existing recess period and others might decide they want a particular space and time,” Souza said. “So we’ll leave it to them. And there’s no political statements, this is simply to honor the memory of those who lost their lives (in Florida).”

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