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Grand Forks schools to enforce attendance policy during planned walkout

Grand Forks students who walk out of class Wednesday to call attention to gun violence in schools must adhere to district policy on absences or face consequences, school officials said in an email sent to parents Friday.

In the email, officials of Grand Forks Public Schools reminded parents of school district policy that would affect high school students who participate in a planned walkout calling for action on gun deaths in the wake of school shootings.

Students are planning a walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Red River and Grand Forks Central high schools.

"We respect our students' U.S. Constitutional right to freedom of speech as long as their actions do not cause a substantial disruption or interfere with the rights of others," officials said in the email.

"As a requirement of of North Dakota state law, Grand Forks Public Schools enforces established attendance procedures, and a student who will miss any class time needs parental or guardian permission in advance," the email stated.

High school students who wish to join the walkout need to sign out at their school's main office.

Middle school students need to be signed out by their parent or guardian.

According to the schools' student handbook, students who are truant from one or more classes without consent will receive detention time.

If the walkout occurs, schools and classes will continue on their normal schedule, the email stated. Staff will remain with students in their classrooms, retake the attendance, and note students who remain in class and those who choose to leave.

Some middle school students have asked their principals about the March 14 event, said Tracy Jentz, communications coordinator for Grand Forks Public Schools, so the decision was made to send the email to parents of middle and high school students.

The email was sent Friday in hopes that parents would read it, talk with their children about it, and share their expectations with them over the weekend, she said.

Speakers who have been invited to talk at each event are Dave Berger at Red River and the Rev. Sarah Raymond at Grand Forks Central.

Berger is youth director at Sharon Lutheran Church in Grand Forks. Raymond is pastor of Walle, East Walle and Evanger Lutheran churches in rural Grand Forks.

One the event organizers, Maia Jackson, a senior at Grand Forks Central High School, told the Herald last month that students should be out of class for about 20 minutes.

Red River High School seniors Floyd Althoff and Simi Kaur are leading the effort at that school, Jackson said.

Similar student-led events will occur Wednesday across the nation, she said.

"The safety and well-being of our students is our top priority, and the best way for us to ensure student safety during the school day is to know the location of our students," the school district's email stated.

After learning about Wednesday's event, district officials reached out to and talked with the organizers. They shared their concerns and those of the local police department, which include the proposed locations and the safety of all involved.

Parents were encouraged to contact the principal at their children's school or a school district administrator with questions or concerns about the event.

Wednesday's event will mark the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed and 17 others were wounded.