High school students all across the country are showing acts of solidarity as thousands of students walked out to protest gun violence in schools on the one month anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Most of the protests occurred at 10am and lasted for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people who were killed that fateful day. The protests look different at each school, with some choosing to honor the victims with 17 minutes of silence and other choosing to read aloud the names of those killed.
Most students around the nation chose to physically leave their classrooms and march outside their schools around campus demanding their voices to be heard. Some students chose to take their demonstrations off of school property, with students in D.C. gathering outside of the White House and on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, officials in Washington are unlikely to react quickly to demands of the protesting students. Trump pledged to seek national-level reform on control but has since abandoned that pledge, most likely due to NRA opposition. The purpose of the protest is to press lawmakers to develop stricter gun control laws to avoid tragedies like this in the future. While most schools supported the students and their cause, that wasn’t the case for all.
#NationalWalkoutDay has captured the interest of more than 3,000 schools. The walkout is an excellent opportunity for students to spread awareness. Current school districts have a zero tolerance for protesting during school hours. According to Slate.com, Needville Independent District of Texas, “students who participate in any protest during school hours will be slapped with a three-day suspension.” Needville Independent District of Texas is one of many schools who released punishments for students who wish to participate in the protest. Parents and students do not agree with the unnecessary penalties, so the parents took the streets in place of the students. According to CNN, “Atlanta, suburb of Cobb County district took disciplinary action against protesting students, but while the area doesn’t support the walkouts, some parents do. A group of a dozen or so parents came out with signs to support the students at Walton High School.” The parents of the school districts who penalize the students wanted to protest and shine a light on the 17 lives lost.
Since this walkout is occuring during the school day, it raises a few concerns for teachers and administration. Though students have a right to express their political views, the schools also have a right to extend consequences to those who disrupt the learning process of other students. In the 1969 case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community, the US Supreme Court ruled that school administrators could not punish students for just the expression of their political views. A student can only be disciplined if their speech or actions cause a “material” or “substantial” disruption to school functions. It’s true that a national walkout will inevitably disrupt classroom time, but others argue that this experience is a valuable lesson of itself. For the school districts who constitute this 17 minute walkout as skipping class, they have every right to punish the students. However, the punishment can not go beyond the initial school policy.
For example, the superintendent of the school district in Needville, Curtis Rhodes, sent out a letter to parents and students stating that “Needville ISD will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness…Should students choose to do so they will be suspended from school for 3 days and face all the consequences that come along with an out of school suspension.” It is unconstitutional for a school to reprimand students harsher than the original policy. This post understandably came with backlash and since then, Rhodes has removed the post from Facebook.
This is not only happening in the United States. Schools in other countries are taking this chance to protest gun violence. In Israel, the walkout at Walworth Barbour American International School was organized by three students. Students at the International School of Iceland also took part in the walkout, but since the weather was not cooperating, they had to stay indoors. Justin Shouse, an educator who teaches fifth and sixth grade, said, “This idea for us to participate in the walkout out came recently during a current events discussion and a discussion on children’s rights around the world.” In Great Britain, students that attend the American School in London congregated in a local park, held a banner, and gave speeches during their walkout. The school’s communications coordinator told CNN, “We believe this a great opportunity for students to think about the power of their voices and their actions to bring about change to the world.”
With high schools’ students organizing their own protests and becoming more vocal about political topics, it begs the question: at what age should an opinion be validated?