Officials say school will not punish students who join walkout Wednesday

Shalhevet to organize prayer and singing in parking lot to mark Florida shooting without ‘a political stance’


Parkland, Fla., Sheriff's Office via

Officers of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department last month in a photograph taken after the shooting at Margory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

As students across the nation are orchestrating school walkouts for this Wednesday in the wake of a deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla., Shalhevet Judaic Studies director Rabbi David Block announced Shalhevet’s acceptance of student participation.

In his post, Rabbi Block said that the school “won’t take a political stance,” but that officials would allow students to leave class and demonstrate.

In his post, Rabbi Block said that the school “won’t take a political stance,” but that officials would allow students to leave class and demonstrate. He encouraged teachers to be lenient.

“While we will not be participating as an institution,” Rabbi Block wrote, “if some of our students want to participate, we will certainly not stop them. Teachers will have the right to decide to what extent they will hold students responsible for missed content, but we ask teachers not mark those students late/absent for stepping out of class. “

He also said that the school would organize singing and prayer in the parking lot during the time of the walkout.

Earlier, freshman Noa Silberstein had posted that walkouts are scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday throughout the country.

“This act is to stand up for school safety and commemorate those who were lost in the Florida shooting,” Noa wrote. “Everyone is encouraged to join!”

Rabbi Block posted about 45 minutes later, saying school officials hoped their actions would reflect a neutral standpoint and avoid engaging in any associated politics.
“We deeply want to honor the victims and we never want to sit idly by, but our policy, as an institution, is not to take any particular political side or to officially advocate for any political stance,” wrote Rabbi Block in a Schoology post at 8:04 p.m. Monday night.

Therefore, the school encourages teachers not to mark students absent for leaving class.

Some argue that leaving school and marching down Fairfax is not a constructive means of dialogue.

Dean of Academic Affairs Ms. Aviva Walls said students who comport themselves with maturity should not expect disciplinary action.

“We are wary of sparking divisiveness within the Shalhevet community and creating a modes of protest that don’t allow students to listen to and think through various points of view,” Ms. Walls wrote in an email interview Sunday.

“We are also concerned for our students’ safety in walking off of school grounds and onto a busy street.”

But out of respect for the fallen, wrote Rabbi Block, Shalhevet encourages eager students to join in song and prayer in the parking lot during the walkout.

“Our lack of official participation on Wednesday shouldn’t be confused with apathy towards the tragedies that transpired or the issues raised in the aftermath,” Rabbi Block added. “We’re deeply invested in honoring the victims and will use this as an opportunity to learn and grow together as a community.”
Noa’s post had attracted 28 likes by 10:45 p.m. and nine comments — most of them supportive. But other students questioned whether school safety was the only objective of a walkout.

Much of the nationwide protest is in support gun control legislation, advocating for tighter control of firearms and the banning of assault weapons, a category whose very definition varies by jurisdiction.

Sophomore Ben-Tsion Oliel cited the article hyperlinked by Noa, highlighting the political and legislative goals of the protest and its organization by the group Empower.

“This is from the article […],” Ben-Tsion wrote. “Among their demands, participants want Congress to:

Ban assault weapons

Require universal background checks before gun sales

Pass a gun violence restraining order law that would allow courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.”

Regardless of political undertones, many are eager to show their support for the victims.

“I think that when we break from the schedule of regular things that happen, it shows that there is something going on that we need to do something about,” said freshman Rami Fink. “It’s an act of standing in solidarity.”

While many students are expected to display strong beliefs across the political spectrum, some anticipate apathy and, thus, exploitation of the circumstances.

“Sometimes people in general specifically teenagers can get caught up in protest or cause for the sake of being part of a cause, especially when it’s something like leaving class,” said Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg in an interview on Friday.

“I expect students to go out for the allotted time, and not go to Starbucks.”

Staff writer Kate Orlanski contributed to this article.