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Nashville charter students, K-2, "march for safety" on day of national school walkout

FOX 17 News

A parent is upset after being alerted that the Nashville charter school his first-grade son attends will be walking out of class in a “march for school safety” on Wednesday, the day of a national school walkout protesting gun violence.

In a memo to parents, Explore Community School, which teaches grades K-2, said the school and its students will be participating in a 17-minute march at 10 a.m. on March 14 for “school safety.”

The school is holding this march at the exact same time a National Walkout is taking place in response to the 17 people killed in a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. FOX News is reporting more than 185,000 students are expected to participate nationwide and call for stricter gun control laws.

All Metro high schools and some middle schools are expected to hold walkouts.

ECS said its walkout won’t be mentioning nor discussing the school shootings with their students, who are also referred to as “Explorers.” The school said gun control is “not the goal nor focus” of this march.

“Rather, we will honor movements that have impacted change throughout history, celebrate our school community, and commit to keeping everyone in our community safe,” a memo to ECS parents said.

Parent John Rutherford had reservations about the “march” and said he doesn’t want his son, or other students, to be “political pawns.”

"I'm concerned more because of his level of understanding about what it's all about," Rutherford said. "Because the walkout itself has deep meaning and affects a lot of people, and I think that's a level that's a bit beyond a first grader."

Rutherford voiced those concerns and now the school has back-peddled a bit, calling it a "march for school safety" instead.

"We think it's an opportunity for our community to come together and celebrate school safety and commit to keeping one another safe," ECS Principal John Driskell said.

In a letter to Driskell and provided to FOX 17 News, Rutherford said he personally supports the spirit of the movement, but doesn’t think it’s good for a first grader, “who does not understand what it's about, nor the complexities of what's at stake.”

“I understand guns and gun violence against children will not be discussed, but it still seems out of place for a school to lead such an effort,” Rutherford wrote.

ECS’ original memo identified the event as a “walkout” to parents and that they would “walk as a school to the Y-CAP gym.” However, the school has since stated that children can be brought in at 10:30 a.m., after the march, and their tardy will be excused, so all students do not have to participate.

Rutherford said he isn't fully satisfied with that either.

"It makes me feel, in a sense, that if it's a political movement than they're possibly using my child and a political pawn, and I don't want that to happen," Rutherford said.

Other Explore parents said they with have mixed feelings about the march.

"My inclination at this point is to not have my child participate because it's a complicated issue," Alicia Mosteller said.

"I don't think it matters that much," Rebekah Mitchell said. "I trust the leadership at this school and the decisions that they make."

Rutherford shared his concerns with Driskell who responded with a clarification of how the event should be identified:

“I completely understand your reservations and share many of them myself. You're correct, we aren't "walking out" as our kids aren't choosing to do so. Rather, we're marching for school safety which is how I should have originally identified it. While a walkout is a type of civil disobedience that, I agree, K-2 kids aren't able to understand, I think that a the only thing that could be found political about our march (since safety isn't really a partisan issue) is that it's at the same time. I might be splitting hairs a bit but the distinction will be easily recognizable in our actions when we march as a school to the gym and commit to keeping our community safe. This is aligned with the district guidance to principals to provide a safe space for discussion and similar to gatherings that will be taking place in other Nashville schools.

I knew there would be valid pushback on this decision but the sad truth is that kids and teachers do not feel safe in schools and that's unacceptable. We've always believed that kids can work from kindergarten on to make our world a better place and, in alignment with our core values of courage and community, we believe that our school should have the courage to take action to better our community.”

Here is the original memo to parents about the walkout:

"National School Walkout

On Wednesday, March 14 at 10:00, Explore will join students from schools around the country to participate in the National School Walkout. We will walk as a school to the Y-CAP gym to celebrate and advocate for safety in schools. Please note that, although the Walkout has been inspired by the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, we will not be mentioning nor discussing school shootings with Explorers. Similarly, while some walkouts are focused on gun control, that is not the goal nor focus of ours. Rather, we will honor movements that have impacted change throughout history, celebrate our school community, and commit to keeping everyone in our community safe."

The event at Explore is happening at 10:00 a.m. Wednesday, and kids will march to the gym. Explore is a charter school, and part of the Metro Public School System.

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