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Riverview Gardens students walk out against violence

Students walk back down Shepley Drive on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, to Riverview Gardens High School after more than 200 students walked out to protest gun violence. The marchers walked from the school along Shepley Drive to Bellefontaine Road. After the march, students returned to the school but were not allowed back on school property. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

This story has been updated.

BELLEFONTAINE NEIGHBORS • Riverview Gardens school officials opted for less punitive discipline for students who walked out and left campus to protest gun violence Tuesday morning, after weathering criticism for locking those students out of school.

“We agree with their right to express how they feel, and as the team got together and talked about it, they just decided, you know what, these are our future leaders,” Riverview Gardens School District spokeswoman Leata Price-Land said. “So we’re on board with them dealing with free speech. So let’s just go back to things as usual.”

Students feared they could face suspension for leaving campus. But those students were only subject to parent conferences with school officials. According to district policy, discipline could have ranged from student conferences to suspension.

The school district drew nationwide social media attention after it barred high school students who participated in the walkout from re-entering the school grounds. Price-Land said the school later allowed students back on campus. Student protesters said that was not the case, and students had gone home after being told they couldn’t return to school. Some parents had already picked up students, said Jennifer Carr, mother of walkout organizer Taylor Carr.

School officials had warned students as they were gathering to protest that they would face punishment if they left school grounds, in accordance with district policy, said Riverview Gardens High School Principal Darius Kirk in a Tuesday letter to families. Officials told students that they would not get in trouble if they protested on campus, Kirk added. Some students who walked out remained on campus as requested, officials said.

Other students said they walked out because school officials would not allow journalists on campus.

“They were asked to stay on campus. When they leave our campus, there is no way for us to ensure their safety,” Price-Land said. “We believe in what they believe, we just need to have control.”

Students from at least four public high schools in the St. Louis area have held actions to protest gun violence and to call for stricter gun control in the weeks after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in which 17 people were killed. Clayton students organized a news conference outside of school during the school day, Parkway Central students organized an after-school news conference and Ladue students held 17 minutes of silence during lunch period. Clayton students received unexcused absences and detentions for leaving school.

Students at several area high schools are planning 17-minute walkouts on March 14, a day designated by Women’s March Youth Empower leaders for school walkouts nationwide. Students in area schools are also planning walkouts for April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.