I know there are some parents who have concerns about their children participating in the school walkouts planned for March 14. They are valid concerns and I share them. I was on a planning call with the national organizers last night with my child (this is organized by the Women’s March) and some of these issues were discussed. Here is how I would respond to the two main concerns: safety and school administrators’ reaction.
This walkout is not any less safe than other times the kids are outside the school, like loading and unloading from buses or when they lined up for prom. In many schools police are present at those times, and they could be present at the walkout to protect the kids as well. And let’s remember that it is because of a concern for their safety that the kids are doing this in the first place. Parents who are concerned about their children’s safety should advocate for common sense gun laws like banning assault rifles and closing gun show loopholes.
2. School Reaction
Different schools around the country are responding differently, from supporting the kids to threatening punishment. I hope the my child’s school administration sees the justice of their cause and supports them. I understand there may be some liability issues, but last year many schools allowed the kids outside to watch the eclipse, and this is at least as important as the eclipse.
In any case, many of the kids are seeing this as an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, in the spirit of those high school students who sat down at lunch counters in the south in violation of the law (though those students obviously risked much more than our kids are). They see this as necessary because the adult society has not been willing to enact common sense gun laws that would protect them. Since adult society is to blame for Parkland and every school shooting before it, we can hardly expect these kids to keep respecting adult authority indefinitely. This is a relatively minor form of civil disobedience considering what’s at issue.
Our kids are seizing political power and exercising their constitutionally protected rights. I for one am proud. I hope parents will support their children, and even encourage them to participate.
In any case, in most cases, parents can shield their kids from the school by simply excusing them during the time of the event. According to the ACLU, while the school may punish a child for an unexcused absence, they cannot punish them any more harshly than they would for any unexcused absence. I am an attorney and I will offer to represent, pro bono, any child in my school district who participates in the walkout should they be disciplined by the school.
Below is a policy letter published by one school system, DeKalb Community Schools in Georgia, which I think handled it well:
Students across the nation, including some of our own students, have staged peaceful protests in response to the Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy in Florida and the discussion around gun control legislation during the past few days.
We can expect similar demonstrations in the days ahead, including national protests set for March 14, March 24 and April 20.
The DeKalb County School District supports students’ Constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free expression. However, our top priority is to support the academic and social emotional needs of our students while maintaining a safe and orderly environment for all students and staff. We also respect those students who choose not to participate in these planned events.
If a student walkout or protest happens in one of our schools, we will allow the students to peacefully protest. We encourage our students to be respectful. Please understand that the Student Code of Conduct remains in place and will be enforced during these times. We will not tolerate behavior that disrupts school operations or threatens the safety and order of our schools.
It can be a teachable moment where students can demonstrate their First Amendment right to be heard, knowing there are natural consequences to civil disobedience.
If your child is feeling overwhelmed, please reach out to your school administrator for support and guidance. We are here for our students and families during this turbulent time in our society.
Thank you for your continued support of your district and your school.
Dr. R. Stephen Green