A Message from Superintendent Jack R. Smith: March 14 Demonstrations
Dear MCPS Community:
Over the last week, many of you have called or written to Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to share your thoughts regarding student-organized demonstrations scheduled for March 14. While many of you have heard from your child’s principal, I would also like to share my thoughts and concerns for Wednesday.
The tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla., has affected us all, but the impact has fallen most heavily on students who see themselves in the victims and survivors of the horrific event. This tragedy has created real anxiety and fear. It has also inspired students to stand up and speak out for strategies to ensure their safety in school. Civic engagement is the foundation of our democracy and MCPS respects and supports our students’ right to advocate for issues that are important to them. This support is defined in Regulation JFA-RA: Student Rights and Responsibilities and bolstered by the Board of Education’s February 26 resolution on safe and secure schools and communities.
I understand that many students want to make their voices heard on March 14 as part of a national school walkout to memorialize the 17 people who lost their lives in Parkland on February 14, and to advocate for school safety. While we support student advocacy, we want students who choose to engage in the civic process to do so while at school, in a learning environment that is supportive and safe. With guidance from MCPS leadership, school administrators are working closely with student leaders to develop a plan for March 14 that will provide students an opportunity to express their views while remaining safe on campus. These demonstrations are student-led and voluntary. No student will be compelled to participate or discouraged from participation.
I am also keenly aware that some students may decide to participate in a walkout that takes them off campus. As I shared in my message on February 22, leaving school property can disrupt instruction for other students and pose a significant safety risk, especially in light of the increase in school threats. MCPS does not have the staff or resources to ensure students are safe during the school day when they are not on a school campus. I ask that you speak with your child to let them know that if they leave the school building without permission or walk out of class outside of the designated time, it will be considered an unexcused absence. Information about the impact of an unexcused absence can be found in A Student's Guide to Rights and Responsibilities and the Student Code of Conduct. If school administrators learn that your child has left the building without permission, they will strive to contact you as soon as possible.
Additionally, while middle and high school students are aware of the Parkland tragedy, we know that many parents have not engaged with their elementary-aged children on this issue. Elementary schools will not be supporting organized student-led demonstrations or talking to students specifically about these issues. However, school staff and resources are available to support students at all levels who may want to talk about school safety.
I encourage parents to talk with their children about these issues. Please know that MCPS is committed to providing support for students, as well as an opportunity to express their views.
Jack R. Smith, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools