Schools Should Use Walkouts in Protest of Gun Violence as a Teaching Moment

For 17 minutes on March 14, students and their supporters across the country are planning to walk out of their schools, honoring the victims of the Parkland school shooting and calling for Congress to pass meaningful gun regulation. Unfortunately, some schools view this act as a disruption and are threatening to discipline students who participate. A disciplinary response is a disservice to young people and a missed educational opportunity.

Too often, adults discipline students for expressing their opinions or simply being themselves. LGBTQ students have been sent home for expressing their sexual orientation, and girls have been disciplined when they challenge gendered uniform policies. Students of color are more likely than their white classmates to be disciplined, especially for subjective offenses like excessive noise. A hairstyle, a hoodie, or even a creative school science project can be seen as cause for disciplining Black and brown students. Punishment has even been invoked against students who attempt to speak up when they see abuse. That’s what happened to a high school student in Columbia, South Carolina, who was charged with “disturbing schools” after daring to speak up against a police officer’s violent mistreatment of a classmate.

The impulse to discipline and control young people may come from the desire to avoid a contentious conversation in the short term, but resorting to punishment doesn’t solve the problem, and it doesn’t keep kids safe. We’ve learned this lesson in other areas of school discipline. Adults too often rely on discipline and even policing to address student behavior rather than providing the resources — like school counselors, special education services, and peer mentoring for teachers — necessary for a real solution. Moreover, reliance on punitive responses creates a school environment that feels more like a prison than a safe space for all students and staff.

STUDENTS’ RIGHTS: SPEECH, WALKOUTS, AND OTHER PROTESTS

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, and after other school shootings, there has been a rush to increase the police presence in schools. There is no evidence this approach improves safety, and in practice, students — particularly students of color and students with disabilities — often end up the targets of increased police scrutiny. Fortunately, students are taking a stand against these practices, too.

School administrators owe it to their students to examine their reaction to young peoples’ self-expression and to ask how they can help build on this moment of protest as an educational experience. As the Supreme Court observed in Brown v. Board of Education, education is “the very foundation of good citizenship.” Public school is the place where students experience and interact with government, learn through discussion and debate with other students from differing backgrounds, and build the foundation for participation in a democratic society. Rather than seeking to silence students’ political engagement and quashing their desire for conversation, schools can approach this moment as an opportunity for learning about civic action.

Several districts are planning to do just this. Local and state departments of education — in Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, and New York — as well as the School Superintendents Association have provided guidance to aid school administrators in making the March 14 actions safe and teachable moments. ACLU affiliates in multiple states, such as New Jersey, Nevada, and Texas, are urging other districts to do the same.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR WALKOUT

“Security thrives in an open, trusting environment,” as school officials from Wake County, North Carolina rightly noted. The concept of school security must include making schools places where all students are safe to be themselves and express their views.

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Cheyenne

Good, glad to see there is some sanity left in our country, or what's left of it! Sad to see that many schools and teachers have opted to use our tax money and deaths of students for their own political agenda. They seem to live in a fairytale world where they depend on the government to provide their every need, Yeah, we've seen how that worked in every mass shooting, haven't we?

Our national cemeteries are full of men and women who died protecting the freedoms that we enjoy, As a veteran, I consider what is happening spitting on us all. And now those same freedoms are under attack from within, by people who appear to have no knowledge of the 2nd ammendment. The rationale and intent of it is readily available in the Federalist Papers, and quotes concerning it in the writings of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Paine, Madison, and many others. It would do well to educate these same students, and apparently their teachers, in history rather than "Social Studies."

Where is the ACLU? Nowhere to be found! Guess they don't care about we who put our lives on the line so they are free to do what they do! We have rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights (Not the bill of needs) too!

Anonymous

Excusing a school absence for a protest would cheat students from an important teachable moment and life lesson: There are times in your life where one is moved to take a principled stand DESPITE the consequences. That takes courage, conviction, and a willingness to live with the consequences of one's actions. An absence policy should be enforced agnostic of whether an absence is related to a particular protest. Some things are more important than a late slip, and in this case, students have the opportunity to decide that for themselves. Why not give them that chance?

Anonymous

Because you as a leftist teacher are using these students to walk out of class so you have a huge group of people to say to the NRA that you disapprove of guns! You're using these students as pawns after teaching them tha America sucks! You are sick in the head and disgusting and should be fired!

Anonymous

Or you could teach them that there are other, often more productive, ways to handle things. Or you could teach them that if one route is blocked you can go another way. Or you could teach them to weigh their options to decide if the action is worth the consequences. In reality, a "walk out" sanctioned by the school is little more than a field trip.

MonsieurHolcomb

We have a group of students who will be protesting. The admin wants to encourage them to use their voices as responsibly as possible. We are not going to give them cuts or assign detention. We are treating this a little like excusing them to vote. There will be calls home to let their parents know where they are. We've also partnered with the local university who are meeting our students and escorting them to the downtown plaza where there will be an event that runs until school would be let out. This has all been very responsibly planned with our students' safety in mind. We've actually had a few kids who WANT us to give them detentions to make their statement have more meaning.

Anonymous

Do you really want them to exercise their right to protest or are you condoning one form or topic of protest? That is, if the topic wasn't near and dear to YOUR heart would you be as supportive as a matter of principle?

Anonymous

So, it's a field trip....

Anonymous

It is simple. Unless a parent is telling the school that their child will be leaving the school, the child should be punished for cutting class. It is that simple.
If a minor is too young to be punished, they are too young to cut school or class without permission from a parent.

Anonymous

I will call today and let the school know my children will be absent for 17 minutes on March 14. Thank you for the heads up.

Anonymous

Not in Bentonville. Even with parental permission to participate, they will get detention.

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