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Students, schools prep for Wednesday walkout over Florida shooting

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Students march down Marshall Ave. in St. Paul
Students march down Marshall Ave. in St. Paul, Minn. on Wednesday, March 7, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Students in Minnesota and across the country plan to step out of their classrooms for 17 minutes Wednesday, the one-month anniversary of Parkland, Fla., high school shooting, where a gunman killed 17 students and staff.

The walkout, set to start at 10 a.m., is meant to honor those killed, and Minnesota school officials are gearing up for the event, with some schools showing support for the walkout.

In a letter to families on Friday, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff notified parents the district is considering supporting secondary students as part of their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble on campus.

He stressed that students are expected to return to class and not leave school grounds.

"As educators, part of our role is to help our students learn how to actively engage in civic conversations and the importance of being engaged in our democratic process," Graff said.

"Because our primary focus must be student instruction," Graff continued, "MPS cannot condone weekly or even monthly walkouts, although we continue to encourage our students' interest in expressing their ideas and opinions."

It could provide a teachable moment for students and staff, said Michael Thomas, the district's chief of academics. "Teaching and learning doesn't happen only in the walls of a classroom. It happens everyday in life," he said.

Parents are organizing on their own to gather on the sidewalk around the school, he added.

At Edina High School, principal Andy Beaton said his school will remain neutral about the walkout. Students who decide to participate in the walkout, however, will be allowed to leave classes at 10 a.m. and gather in the east parking lot where the school will provide supervision and security.

Students are expected to return to class on time for next period starting at 10:35 a.m., he said.

"Consequences of the attendance policy will apply to students who do not return to class on time or leave the EHS campus during the school day without parent permission," Beaton said in a letter to parents. "Students who follow our expectations for this event will not be disciplined. However, any other infractions that take place during the demonstration will be addressed in accordance with district policy."

The district is hearing mixed reactions on the student walkout, said Susan Brott, director of communications and community engagement at Edina Public Schools. Some parents said they don't want their children to participate in the walkout while others have shown support.

At Creek Valley Elementary School in Edina, some parents have asked whether their students could participate in the walkout.

"We are not planning for such a walkout or protest at Creek Valley," principal Kari Dahlquist told parents, "but we have worked with our teachers and staff to have age-appropriate ways to be responsive to students who may bring it up and to do so in ways that are suitable for the student's interest in the topic."

If parents want their children to walk out, students are required to have a guardian or a parent with them.

Minnesota's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin, is on spring break this week.