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

Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!!

kinkysauce

lol i just got here from a last minute project essay i have to do lmao you are about to witness the strength of street knowledge

Roger Meurer

Just wondering where your statement threatening schools that punish PRO-GUN RIGHTS is.
Oh wait, that’s not part of your “protection” of free speech, is it?

Roger Meurer

Wondering why the organization that supposedly defends free speech feels the need to CENSOR comments?
I guess only “free speech” that is acceptable to the CENSORS AT ACLU is allowed, right?
Hypocrite pie seems to be the food of choice of liberals these days.

Anonymous

The only reason the ACLU is supporting this is because of the topic of the protest, not the right to protest itself. Imagine if this were a protest advocating the restriction of 1st Amendment rights through whatever justification or god forbid a protest in support of 2nd Amendment rights. You guys have become a partisan arm and not an organization focused on individual liberties. That was a lofty and very noble goal and you've strayed far from it. I would love to support you but just can't.

Anonymous

They might support a protest advocating that "hate speech" be banned from internet forums. They did defend Free Speech when they won Matal v. Tam but they seem to be waivering on the issue since then.

Fed Up in NY

Attention whores abound. Never waste a good tragedy

Anonymous

I totally disagree protests should not happen on school time. Teachers should be neutal on politics and maybe are told not to sway to one side or the other but many teachers don't they try to push their political views on their students. Students are very impressionable. Parents beware and weary.

Anonymous

You should let parents advise their children on what is acceptable and what is not. When parents take back control of their children and these so called political movements stop involving pour children and advising them then things will change. Teach them how to realistically help cause change when they are old enough. This isnt going to work. Teach them the steps to cause change politically not yelling in the streets, it doesnt work never has never will. This is just totally wrong.

FloridaMOM

"This isnt going to work. Teach them the steps to cause change politically not yelling in the streets, it doesnt work never has never will. This is just totally wrong."
And I suppose the Civil Rights Movement didn't work either? You're a joke! Those children have just as much right to march, protest, "yell," walkout, lie down, sit, chant, and to engage civically as any other American in this country! Fresh young minds are what Washington needs right now! Certainly not Donald Duck! Be careful what you say as it is possible that some of these young people will determine whether you get your social security check when the time comes!

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