Students locked out during march as Richfield district tries to balance all viewpoints

While students walked out of class Wednesday to protest gun violence, administrators have been trying to balance how to accommodate all the various viewpoints within the school - specifically for those who wanted to participate in the walk out and those who did not. 

For many it's a delicate situation, such as the case that unfolded in Richfield.

Students from Richfield High School and a few dozen others are surprised they weren't allowed back inside and were told to get off campus after stepping outside to take part in the much larger nationwide movement.

“My head is spinning all over the place,” said Maya, a freshman. “I’m not sure what to do now. We just wanted to protest for these 17 victims. We didn't want to cause a scene, we just wanted to protest peacefully.” 

According to the district office, students and parents were repeatedly emailed three options ahead of Wednesday's march.        

Superintendent Steven Unowsky said "what was important to us was we did not want to set a legal precedence and did not take a political stance."
The three options were: First, students could remain in class and teachers would continue teaching. Second, students could walk out and go to the cafeteria or auditorium. Those making that choice were expected to return to class after 17 minutes and received no consequence. 

Third, students could walk out of class and leave the building. Those making that choice received no consequence, but, per school policy, they would not be allowed back in the building after leaving unexcused.

The nearly 100 students who marched outside would be violating school policy unless they had parental permission. About 200 participated in the indoor protest. 

Unowsky added that if they changed the current closed campus policy for this demonstration, they may be expected to do so in the future. 

But some students said they didn't like the division of protests.

“Basically, the school made their own protest and tried to keep us in the school when the actual protest was happening outside,” said sophomore Tyreese Johnson.

Richfield believes its district followed the ACLU's guidelines regarding walkout rules. 

Still, some students said they think it could have been handled better. For example, Benilde- St. Margaret's, another school where we rarely see demonstrations take place, allowed students back inside. 

Several Richfield students and one parent believe that because they only stepped a couple of feet out the door, they should not have been forced to leave.

“They, in essence, locked the door, locked these children away from their education because they chose to come outside and make a statement,” Patricia Shelton said. 

Meanwhile, demonstrations at Richfield's middle school and elementary did allow students outside. 

Late yesterday, another group of students approached school officials with the desire to do something beyond a march. So, the district has coordinated a panel discussion about school safety with state and city leaders, set for April 30.

U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, State Representative Linda Slocum, Richfield Mayor Pat Elliot and Richfield School Board Chair Christine Maleck will participate in the forum.