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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Anonymous

When I lived in the DC area I often saw teens who had skipped school to go protest on the Mall (the area with the White House and monuments -- not a type of store). They were smoking pot, playing with hackee sacks and frisbees, and often had little to no idea what the cause was. I wasn't particularly impressed. If my daughter can give me a well thought out and researched argument as to why she should be allowed to skip school and protest something then I'll take her to the protest myself (even if I don't agree with her). Otherwise she needs to be in school.

Anonymous

As I have always taught, you always have a choice to do what you want. You do not however get to choose the resulting consequences, other than by making the right choice.

In this case it is up to the students to determine the right choice for themselves. Walk out of school to have a truancy mark on their school records. Stay in school and miss the opportunity to feel they have accomplished something. Or, even better if they want to participate, get a permission slip and excused absence submitted, and not have any problems.

Anonymous

'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.'
And I have to add, instead of improving police training so they can be effective in stopping a shooter, and they do not arrest students for every trivial offense, we are going to throw out the baby with the bathwater and have no police presence at the school.
Real smart idea.

Anonymous

Bentonville Public Schools in Bentonville AR has announced that any student participating in the walkout will receive penalties per our attendance policies. In other words, detention. Many other, better districts in our area (Fayetteville comes to mind) are using it as a teachable moment. So sad that the school board put politics above educating our students. I'm beyond disgusted with the state our our educational system.

Roger Meurer

So many “anonymous” comments!
I guess that while you’re defending the “rights” and “heroism” of students to simply cut classes and toe the liberal 4th Reich line like good little indoctrinated brown shirts, liberals don’t have the same courage to even take credit for their comments.

Anonymous

It's not the teachable moment, it's the selectivity of what's teaching and what isn't. Imagine the subject of organized protest was in support of specific religious doctrine or in support of the restriction of free speech. Do you think this "teachable moment" and "right to protest" would be supported by the ACLU if it was in opposition to one of their pet and/or current topics? The ACLU isn't about principle anymore (individual liberty and the Bill of Rights) it's about selective political platform advancement.

Anonymous

Why do this, when instead you could use those 17 minutes to do something that is really helping, like writing letters to the families of the murdered children and consoling them. How about instead of whining and blaming people, do something that actually helps.

Hayet

If I was there I would walk out too, but the Israelis will not let me leave Palestine.

Roger Meurer

Israel has NOTHING to do with you “leaving Palestine.”
They just don’t want you going into THEIR country and running over, stabbing, shooting, or blowing up kids on buses or in their schools like your “leaders” celebrate.

Anonymous

You could leave your Palestinian classroom though, where they are teaching kindergartens that Jews are the devil and should be killed.

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