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

I wonder if the left would have any issue of student walking out of school to protest teenage abortion?

Anonymous

I think it's more effective for the schools to treat the walkout as a tardy or unexcused. This is a movement started by kids. and the schools should remain neutral. Punishment that is more severe, should not be allowed.

Dana

This article clearly shows the destructive program some heavily funded groups, so called Democrats, are actively implementing in America ( and the whole world). By definition KIDS are immature and not sufficiently developed mentally to make valid decisions. ! They are easily influenced and manipulated. They belong in schools and with their parents. Adults should do the protests not sit in front of their TV watching their kids skip class and approving ! Don't you see something is really wrong here? Leave the kids out of your dirty games . Your dark shadow is taking over humanity more and more.You are destroying family values, society values, governments, religions...its your time but we shall survive somehow !

FloridaMOM

The "KIDS" are not so immature as to not know a feeling of fear. Many of them are scared to go to school out of fear of being shot and killed or badly injured. As an adult, I have a fear of sending my children to school everyday and into a situation where they aren't safe and protected. Maturity has got nothing to do with anything. The only thing I see wrong here is your fallacious argument and our government failing to provide a safe learning environment for American children. Think about it! If children MUST attend school by law, then that same law MUST ensure the safety of those children in the learning environment and that they are returned to their families at the end of the day! Up until this point, our government has not been held accountable for the lives lost during school shootings. If the FBI, Broward County deputies, DCF, and others would have done their jobs, those children in Parkland who lost their lives and the teachers might still be alive today! Their influence comes from the fact that they had to step over the dead bodies of their fellow classmates to get out of the school. The thousands of students nationwide who are joining these victims in solidarity to exercise their Constitutional rights are doing so out of fear for their own lives, not because they are being influenced or manipulated into doing so. Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals, rich, poor, middle-class, Caucasian, African-American, Hispanic, Latino, Chinese, youth, senior, male, female, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, Baptist, LGBT, or heterosexual are all equally vulnerable when tragedy strikes. How often do you hear of a gunman stopping to ask who falls under one of those labels before firing a weapon and then proceeds accordingly?!?! The only dark shadow here seems to be the false claims of those who lack sufficient evidence to support those claims! For future reference, an informed opinion matters more than an irrational response!

Anonymous

Floridamom, marching won't alleviate their fear or change anything. Feeling that you, personally, have the power to handle a situation is what alleviates fear. The schools should be working with the students to some up with solutions and action plans. These aren't little kids -- these are teens who will be adults very shortly. They aren't going to be able to completely solve the problem but they can certainly do a lot more than standing around for 17 minutes looking lst and angry. Knowing that they can come up with solutions is what will alleviate their fear. They may even have better solutions than adults since this is a problem specific to their age group.

week and deprived

It's funny, my liberty's as a gun owner are now being violated. are you going to fight for me?

Anonymous

These walk outs sell these children short. They are ground zero in this problem so, surely, they could come up with some actual solutions instead of just walking out. They are the subset of the population that does the school shootings and is victimzed for them so who better to come up with solutions (and walk outs in and of themselves solve nothing besides calorie burning). Why aren't we asking this group for their insight into the problem and grass roots approaches to solving the problem? Gun control may stop a couple school shootings but not the majority of them and will do nothing to deter gang shootings that take the lives of too many school children. We should be empowering these students to come up with, and implement, real solutions to a problem that is unique to the school age population.

Anonymous

Guns do no harm. The fault lies with the evil person that is firing the gun. Too many teens have no parent structure.

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