ROCKTON – The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has criticized Hononegah Community High School for alleged discrimination against a student’s First Amendment rights stemming from the school’s handling of the March 14 school walkout event that coincided with protests across the country.
The letter sent by ACLU-IL Senior Staff Attorney Rebecca K. Glenberg claims sophomore Madison Oster and five other students faced discrimination for expressing “a pro-gun viewpoint” during the March 14 walkout.
The event saw approximately 50 to 75 students participate for 17 minutes during the school day in honor of those killed in the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida high school shooting.
According to the letter, Oster and other students were separated from the larger group at either end of the athletic field to prevent any disruption, a claim district staff confirmed citing legal advice.
The day of the walkout, media covering the event were not allowed on school grounds, and asked to stay on public property at Hononegah Road. District staff stressed the events were student-organized and Superintendent Lynn Gibson said both Oster’s group and the larger group of students were allowed to voice their views.
Assistant Superintendent Kim Suedbeck said the ACLU had not contacted the district for a response to verify any of the allegations.
Oster claims she and the small group of students were made to wait to leave the athletic field until after the majority of students had exited back into the high school. The letter said she and the group were originally barred from joining the other students on the field, but were later admitted on the field following a protest by Oster. She also alleged that the small group of students received dismissive attitudes from HCHS Principal Eric Flohr and Assistant Principal Chad Dougherty during the student walkout, a claim the district denies.
“That’s not how it was handled,” Gibson said.
In the letter, Oster said she was yelled at and taunted by students from the walkout, while faculty looked on, as they exited from the athletic field where she stood. The letter said Oster went home early “feeling bullied and disrespected.”
“From our accounts, it was very peaceful and some of the things that were said in the letter, we did not hear,” Suedbeck said.
In response, the letter asked the district to draft a plan for any walkout Friday in honor of the victims in the April 20, 1999 Columbine high school shooting in Colorado, the 19th anniversary of the incident. Gibson and other administrators said they were unaware of any student plans on Friday.
Beloit Turner was the only district in the Beloit area expecting walkouts. The School District of Beloit did not expect student participation, according to district staff.
Going forward, Gibson said the district valued student rights.
“We take student First Amendment rights seriously,” Gibson said.
Around the nation, a wave of student walkouts is expected to disrupt classes Friday at hundreds of schools as young activists press for tougher gun laws.
The protests were chosen to line up with the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, which left 13 people dead in Littleton, Colorado. At 10 a.m., students plan to gather for moments of silence honoring the victims at Columbine and other shootings.
From there, some students will head to rallies at their statehouses. Others will stay at school to discuss gun violence. Some are holding voting registration drives.
Organizers say there will be walkouts in every state, with more than 2,600 registered on the event’s website as of Thursday. Citywide protests are expected to attract thousands in New York City and Austin, Texas. Police in Richmond, Virginia, say they expect at least 10,000 at the state Capitol.
It follows a wave of youth activism that has emerged after the Feb. 14 shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.