Student leaders were planning a 15-minute walkout in support of the Black Lives Matter movement at Kenston High School last Friday but canceled it after a discussion with school administrators. District Superintendent Nancy Santilli said that administrators were concerned about a large group of students gathering without social distancing.

When district leaders found out about the planned walkout, they expressed their concerns to student organizers, Mrs. Santilli said. The students realized the potential for an unsafe environment, she said, and district officials came to an agreement with the students. The superintendent said that both sides are working toward the same goal – a diverse, respectful and inclusive environment at Kenston.

“No one is trying to stop student voice,” Mrs. Santilli said last week, noting that the school is working with the students to reach their goal. “But how do we do that safely so it creates systemic change?”

She said that the administration is not focused on one particular initiative or organization. Rather, officials want to ensure that everyone in the school district shows respect and kindness toward each other. The district already has the PEAK program, which stands for Peaceful Environment at Kenston. Mrs. Santilli said that she wants to add a new goal to the PEAK program to develop action steps supporting students working toward positive changes.

“We have students who are passionate about justice and we want them to be passionate about their beliefs. We had a student who was vocal about that,” she said. “We’re going to try to improve that communication. It was more of a listening to students [meeting] to see how we can support [them],” she said of the meeting between students and administrators on Sept. 4.

Kenston High School Principal Tom Gabram read a statement during the school announcements last Friday saying that the district plans to develop a committee that will implement action steps to support positive change in the schools and community.

“I remind students of our school policy regarding political actions. Our school cannot be used as a platform for protests or campaigning,” Mr. Gabram told students. “We have to be mindful during the upcoming election and learn to respect people’s political beliefs and opinions.”

Student organizers who planned the walkout declined to comment to the Times.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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