Lehigh Valley

Student walkout called 'ultimate civics lesson'

Tax increase for next year lower than anticipated

EMMAUS, Pa. - District parents and students packed the room  at the East Penn School Board’s Monday meeting, where they addressed the March 14 student walkout protesting gun violence and school shootings.

Emmaus student government representative Alex Comfort said that about 800 students had participated.

The walkout was a “great demonstration of solidarity” and featured people on all sides of the gun violence debate, Comfort said.

Emmaus High School junior Emily Lenhart said the walkout featured an “inspiring amount of excitement.”

Lenhart said that the walkout was all about school safety and to call attention to, as many students see it, the country’s failure to address the gun violence epidemic.

High school teachers should do more to address the school safety issue and talk more about the Parkland, Florida shooting in which 17 people were killed, and parents should inform their children about the issue, Lenhart said.

Samantha Smith, also a junior at the high school, said that students marched because they “want the world to be a safe place.”

Several parents of district students praised the district’s response to the walkouts. The district had said it would not punish any students for participating in the walkout. 

Shana Baumgartner, a parent and educator, said she wanted to “applaud” the district’s reaction to the walkouts. The district had allowed students to exercise their free-speech rights and learn to become responsible citizens, Baumgartner said. 

The district had allowed students to “share their voices” by protesting, Baumgartner said.

District superintendent Michael Schilder said in a statement that the student conduct during the walkout was exemplary, and that students acted with passion, integrity and independence.

The district administration facilitated the walkouts to ensure safety, and no student was prevented from participating or punished for doing so, Schilder said.

District students are “well-informed, articulate, and think for themselves,” which is in keeping with the district’s mission statement that encourages students to become problem solvers and critical thinkers, Schilder said.

Schilder said that students are making plans to hold symposiums, write letters and involve local politicians, and the district supports those plans, Schilder said.

The district’s experience with the walkouts was “the ultimate civics lesson, as well as the ultimate teachable moment,” Schilder said.

Toward the end of the meeting, several board members responded to the meeting attendees’ comments on the recent walkouts. 

Board member Ziad Munson said that East Penn students have an admirable “moral clarity.”

Board member Alisa Bowman said she wanted to congratulate Superintendent Schilder and district students on how they handled the walkouts, noting that this was “a generation we can all be proud of.”

Other business

The board discussed the proposed final budget for the 2018-19 school year. 

The $153 million budget would include a millage rate of 18.4322, a 1.92 percent increase. That percentage is a lower increase than originally anticipated.

The budget would have an ending fund balance of about $13 million, and would see an increase of $1.6 million in employee salary costs and a $194,000 increase in employer health insurance costs.

The district anticipates spending $850,000 on full-time kindergarten teachers. The board recently voted to institute a full-day kindergarten program.

The district is proposing to spend $450,000 on an elementary math program and $180,000 on a student information system. 

Superintendent Schilder said that the district would “really suffer” if student information systems were not updated.

The district is also proposing to hire several new teachers, including a new special education teacher, at a cost $85,000 a year each. 

The board will vote on the budget at its April 23 meeting.

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