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MCSD creates alternative to National School Walkout Day protest for Florida victims

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) - A social media movement is calling for students across the nation to stand up, walk out, and call for change following the Florida high school mass shooting. The "National School Walkout" is a planned protest for students to walk out of their classrooms for 17 minutes on March 14 to honor the 17 students and teachers killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

"I think it's a great thing," says local father Nathan Smith. "It's just another form of education and an experience for them that they actually stood up for something that matters and possibly even make a difference."

However, school districts across the nation also respond a walkout will not be tolerated. The Muscogee County School District cites safety as their primary concern with a walkout protest.

"When you walk out, we don't know where they're walking to or what they're walking into, and so that is part of our concern," says Mercedes Parham, the MCSD Director of Communications. "It's our job to take care of those students once they come into our doors, we're responsible for their safety."

She adds any student who does walk out could face discipline including suspension or a tribunal hearing. Instead, the school district is working on an alternate program called "Speak up! Sit in."

The initiative includes selecting middle and high school delegates to sit for a video conference with Georgia state legislators. The meeting would be on the same day as the planned protest from 9 a.m. until 9:45 a.m. The student delegates will have the opportunity to ask questions submitted to them by their classmates.

"We wanted to honor the students request to have their voices heard and give them the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns in a way that would be productive," Parham tells News 3's Mikhaela Singleton.

The school district is also working on setting up live streaming cameras so all middle and high school students can watch the conference and its results from their classrooms. Georgia House of Representatives Minority Whip Carolyn Hugley is one of the legislators who plans to sit in for the Muscogee County students. She tells News 3 she believes our country is in a pivotal point in history.

"You have to think it's 2018, it was just 50 years ago young people marched and had sit ins and participated in civil rights efforts and through their determination, this country made significant change," Hugley says. "I think we're at another moment in our history where if we listen to the children and if we focus on their concerns and their issues, this country will make a change again."

The program is still in its planning phases, but there are parents in the community who already have concerns. Nathan Smith says he feels the limited access will restrict other students who want to protest for their beliefs.

"Only having certain delegates and hand picked students, it defeats the whole purpose," Smith says. "[The school district] can't tell people how to protest. At that point they are controlling the conversation, they are controlling what's being done, what's being said, what is actually going to make it to the media, and we'll never hear from the students really what's on their hearts and on their minds."

Parham says after the conference, the school district will facilitate sending students' letters to the Florida shooting victims and to state legislators. She also adds she has a message for local students.

"We hear you, we understand your concerns. This all started from a tragedy that happened in a state not very far from us," Parham says. "We want to give you a voice, but we want you to do it in a way that is safe. This is not to silence you, it's to empower you."

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