Lakeland school threatened to punish students who joined walkouts over gun control

Polk County

A Polk County school is accused of threatening disciplinary actions for students who joined the nationwide protest on gun control, leaving students outraged.  

Students at the Mckeel Academy of Technology in Lakeland were told over the intercom that they could not participate in the nationwide walkout, which was organized in the wake of last month’s shooting at a Parkland school that killed 17 people.  

“We will not be participating in the national walkout event scheduled at 10 a.m. and anyone who chooses to walk out will receive a detention at minimum,” a school official is heard saying on an intercom message to students that was recorded.  

Instead of walking out, the school held a ceremony prior to class in honor of the Parkland victims.  But for some students, that wasn’t enough.

“It’s about the unity between all of the huge schools that are all around us that are also doing it,” Katie Gallo, a junior told News Channel 8.

Gallo organized the walkout and said she communicated with district officials in advance, but they did not seem receptive.  

Gallo and several other students decided to walk out at 10 a.m. regardless.

“I’ve been waiting all day to hear from the office to be called down for my detention or my suspension,” Gallo said.

“I think it’s very ridiculous that they would threaten kids,” Reagan Craig, a sophomore told News Channel 8. “I feel very passionately about gun control and about that.”

Once the students started walking out, the school conducted a fire drill. Gallo recorded the moment on video.  

“They’re doing a fire drill to keep us from waking out,” Gallo is heard saying.

A staff member confirmed that the school held a planned fire drill. The drill started at 10 a.m. and lasted 17 minutes—the same amount of time as the protest.

“You encourage students not to do it and then you pulled a stunt like this which is just so wrong and immoral,” Craig said. 

“I’m angry right now,” said Gallo.

News Channel 8 reached out to McKeel officials for comment and also to request records and correspondence regarding the walkout and the fire drill. 

The following letter was sent to parents:

Dear Parents,

Considerable misinformation is swirling around campus and on social media about today’s events. There were two separate events that were conducted on our campus today.

First off, at 8:30 this morning our student body was given the opportunity to participate in a “Walk Out” honoring the victims of the tragic accident that occurred at Stoneman Douglas High one month ago today. You may have noticed this gathering as you dropped your student off at school today as it took place in the grassy area between the car drop off line and the bus loop. We wanted to provide extra coverage for this event so we partnered with Polk County Sheriff’s Office who provided a deputy for us to assist in monitoring the event. We felt that it was a successful event as we had numerous students choose to participate.

Secondly, we are required to conduct a fire drill each month to ensure our students and staff are fully prepared if an emergency was to happen. In light of the events at Stoneman Douglas High a month ago, school safety procedures have begun to make a drastic change. With these changes comes an even greater level of importance for practice. With that being said, we utilized some new strategies today for our drill. We incorporated a simulated event where there was a fire at the front of our school, which would have the students and staff report to the back of the school. We also incorporated a delayed dismissal from the classroom when the fire alarm went off. These changes caused the drill to last longer than it normally would. We did, however, conduct this drill at the time when the National Walk Out Event was scheduled to occur in order to give those students who wished to participate, at the nationally recognized time, an opportunity to do so without causing a separate disruption to the school day. No students were encouraged to participate nor were they discouraged to participate.

Lastly, a local news helicopter flew over our campus during the time of our drill. Please know that we did not contact any local news informing them of the gathering this morning nor the drill later in the day. As far as we know, the timing of the helicopter was completely coincidental.

We send you this information to ask that you assist us with dispelling any other misinformation your student or yourself may be receiving.

Thank you for your assistance with this matter.

Joyce Powell

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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