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Middletown high schoolers punished for walkout

Students across the country participated in day of walkouts and protests earlier this month in support of the victims of the Parkland, Florida shooting. At nearby Madison High School in Middletown, 43 students who participated got detention.

Among those punished was Emily Phelps, student council treasurer and incoming first-year at Miami.

"I think it's wrong that we were punished at all, because I felt that the administration should have supported us from the beginning," Phelps said. "And if they would've helped us plan it, there wouldn't have been an issue in the first place."

In 2016, Madison experienced it's own gun violence when James "Austin" Hancock opened fire in the cafeteria. Two students were shot and two were injured because of shrapnel. One of the students who was shot that day, Cooper Caffery, was among those punished.

Former Madison student and sophomore at the University of Dayton, Ethan Owens, was a senior when the 2016 shooting happened.

"One of the kids [who got hurt] ran into the room I was in. He had shrapnel in his leg and started going into shock so I gave him my hoodie and had him sit down and have his legs get propped up," Owens said. "I was just focused on watching out for the eighth graders I was with, calming them down and talking to them."

Owens said he was in the middle school, where the shooting occurred, because it was his free period.

"They're okay with students missing class for pep rallies but when it comes to giving a voice to victims of a school shooting they want to crack down on rules," Owens said of the students getting punished.

Student council met with administration twice before the walkout. First, students were told they would be supported in whatever they decided. In the second meeting, Madison School District's superintendent told the students they would not be allowed to participate in the walkout and students who did would be punished, Phelps said.

Instead, students planned to wear colors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in support of the 17 people who were shot and killed in Feb.

"I felt that a mere wearing of school colors was not enough. I walked out because I wanted to draw attention to this issue. I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, and the small town I call home," Phelps said. "My intent was not to politicize or divide, but to advocate for and support those who are willing to bring about change."

While most students didn't go to school on the morning of March 14 planning to walkout, many students ended up protesting, Phelps said.

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"On the day of the walkout, our principal came onto the announcements warning students of punishment if they walked out," Phelps said. "I think the principal saying we weren't allowed, made some students want to do it more."

On Monday March 26, at the Madison Local School district meeting, school board president David French said students who participated in the walkout owed school resource officers an apology.

"It was very surreal to me to see the people I look up to make this decision that was so out of line with what I thought," said Presley Spicer, a 2015 Madison High graduate and Miami junior.

The idea of arming teachers was also proposed at the meeting.

"The administration wanted to make sure there was no protest related to gun control and they think the school board made the right decision, which was especially jarring," Spicer said.

Phelps said that the community's response has been mixed.

"I saw people calling us tide pod eaters, idiots, clueless and saying that we just wanted to skip class, but I also saw some support."

The decisions of the Madison School District in condemning the walkout stand in contrast to the way Talawanda schools and Miami University reacted to students participating in the walk out.

Talawanda principal Tom York attended the walkout at Talawanda High School.

"It's important for them to be able to express themselves," he told a Miami Student reporter at the walkout.

Miami, along with other colleges and universities, used social media to show its support of the walkouts. Michael Kabbaz, senior vice president of enrollment and success tweeted: "Miami University stands with high school students across the nation who are peacefully protesting against gun violence."