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BHS students hope for acts of kindness, safety forum instead of walkout

BEMIDJI—Bemidji High School students hope to organize a pair of events in lieu of a now-cancelled walkout demanding action on school shootings.

The school's student council wants its classmates to perform 17 acts of kindness on March 14, one for each of the people killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that reignited a national debate over gun violence. Other student bodies have pegged that same date for a nationwide walkout.

BHS student leaders also hope to put together a "school safety forum" where students can submit questions to Bemidji-area lawmakers.

"We feel this is a more productive and professional way to discuss concerns, have our

students' voices heard, AND to listen to them to hear what is currently being legislated at the state level," student council members said in a statement sent to the Pioneer on Tuesday. The forum is tentatively scheduled for April 5.

Student council members also said they've been working with district administrators to hire a new hall monitor, beef up door and entrance security, add more counselors and mental health staff and raise the profile of the school's police officer, among other measures.

"Bemidji Area Schools' administration and staff stand with our students in calling for meaningful measures to adequately address gun violence, school safety, and mental health support for young people," Superintendent Jim Hess said via the Bemidji Area Schools' website Monday. The idea for the forum was born from conversations between Hess, BHS Principal Brian Stefanich, student council adviser Barry Cervenka and student council members, who remembered when a handful of local legislators sat in on a council meeting earlier this year to talk education policy and school safety.

Late last month, BHS English teacher Gina Marie Bernard planned a school-wide walkout in the wake of the Parkland shooting, but her plans quickly drew statewide attention and, ultimately, she canceled the event after learning district leaders didn't support it.

"It was never my intention to back my District into a corner, or foist my political views on anyone," Bernard said. "I sincerely regret that my exuberance has caused such turmoil. I merely wanted to lead by example, and show my kids that I am listening."

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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