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Student legs in the hallway

Students across Northwest Indiana are hosting walkouts and forums Wednesday in honor of the one-month anniversary of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people, including 14 students, lost their lives.

Several local student groups also have the support of their school administration. All of the student-led activities at local schools will be supervised by administrators and local police, and students are expected to follow school rules. Some schools have activities where the media is allowed, while on other school campuses the activities are within the building and don't allow any outside visitors. 

Students at Lake Central, Munster, Merrillville, Hobart, Michigan City and Hanover Central High Schools, along with middle and high school students in the School City of Hammond, are among those who have planned student-led walkouts and/or programs to support Marjory Stoneman and promote school safety.

The Crown Point Community School Corp. nixed a student-planned walkout but is allowing students to have activities within the school building.

In an email to parents Monday, Crown Point High School Principal Chip Pettit said students have been approaching teachers and administrators about how to express their point of view in a safe and respectful way.

The letter said some students have indicated they will participate in a student-led walkout on Wednesday as part of the national movement to honor those killed in Parkland last month and to protest gun violence.

"We believe that walking out of school is a disruption of the educational process and presents unique challenges from a student safety standpoint," Pettit wrote.

"Therefore CPHS does not promote or support student-led walkouts. We are engaging our student leaders and discussing other ways to have their voices heard. ... Students will have an option to participate in two different activities in which our student body will collectively work together to send a symbol of hope and healing to the students and staff at Parkland," Pettit said in the letter.

Neither Pettit nor Crown Point schools Superintendent Teresa Eineman returned emails or calls from The Times for additional comment.

Crown Point junior Sokhna Kelly said she has been working with three other students — junior Sofia Espinoza and sophomores Katya Halstead and Janiya Johnson — to plan activities.

She said they were disappointed to learn they would not be able to walk out of the school and to the football field as they had planned.

"We didn't hear about this until a meeting with the principal Friday," she said. "We've been working on this a couple of weeks. We won't be able to have it on the same scale. We won't be permitted to walk out and no group will be permitted to enter the school grounds. That means the media can't come in. There was another group that was going to come and talk but they won't be permitted inside either."

Kelly said they have scaled down their activities but will still have opening statements about the school tragedies and will make signs for a March 24 "March for Our Lives" rally. She said she and many other students are planning to go to Chicago and are doing fundraising and other activities in support of that event.

Other local superintendents and principals have expressed support for their student walkout and other activities.

Lake Central School Corp. and the School Town of Munster administrators are allowing students to participate with conditions. Students will be provided with supervision, along with the St. John police providing security at Lake Central.

In Munster, students are being dismissed to allow for a walkout to the field house. The names of students killed in Parkland and other school shootings will be projected on two whiteboards. There will be student speeches and students can sign a banner that will be sent to Parkland.

East Porter County schools Superintendent Rod Gardin said students at Kouts Middle/High School expressed an interest in holding a demonstration, while students at Morgan Township Middle/High School and Washington Township Middle/High School did not organize a student demonstration.

"Students across the country are demanding changes that will help them be safe in school and our students are no different," he said. "We stand beside them in advocating for safer schools."

Michigan City High School Principal Candy Van Buskirk said several student leaders reached out to administrators with a desire to hold an event on March 14.

"Rather than a walkout, they expressed a desire to have their voices heard during an assembly, and also to hear from local leaders and elected officials regarding school safety. They also wanted an opportunity to remember the students and staff who passed away in the Parkland tragedy. We're supportive of their efforts and believe there's value in providing them with a platform to express their concerns and to hold a remembrance for the Parkland students," she said.

Similarly, Merrillville High School Principal Mike Krutz said students at the high school are conducting a forum, which will include a panel discussion, a video and a discussion on school safety. He said Pierce Middle School students also are conducting activities to memorialize the lives lost in Parkland.

Students at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake will be wearing red and black, the SDHS school colors and will walk to the football field for 17 minutes.

Educators said several student leaders will be offering messages to their classmates centered around the theme, #NOTATHC (Not at Hanover Central). Administrators said students have accepted the responsibility and obligation "we all share in our efforts to keep Hanover schools safe and we are immeasurably proud of them, their decision and their actions."

Hobart schools Superintendent Peggy Buffington said Hobart High School students have an onsite walkout for a peace forum and will use that, along with the Hobart Police Department assisting with security, and students will participate in a peaceful forum.

Hammond schools Superintendent Walter Watkins sent out a statement saying middle and high school students may participate in an onsite walkout without facing punishment provided they remain on school grounds. He said a special video presentation will focus on school safety and security. He said middle and high school students who choose not to participate will be in the school cafeteria or auditorium to view a safety video presentation as well.


Education reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.