The recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida has prompted students across the country to walk out of class in protest of gun violence, and more organized walkouts are expected. The call for students to exercise their First Amendment rights during the middle of a school day forces administrators to make tough decisions about how to handle large groups of students protesting on campus.
Some school districts have already drawn a line in the sand, vowing to discipline students who participate in an organized walkout, including threats of suspension. Others are collaborating with their student body to help plan on-campus walkout events. Those who have not yet taken a position should probably do so soon. The first walkout, organized by the Women’s March, is scheduled for March 21. Organizers have called for a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the Florida victims. Other demonstrations have been planned for March 21 and April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine mass shooting.
No matter the stance school districts take, their decision will be faced with sharp criticism. The superintendent in Needville, Texas vowed to suspend any student who walks out of class and was promptly lambasted on social media. In another community, parent outcry prompted a school to cancel a planned, coordinated walkout. Other school districts are requiring parental permission for a student to walk out of class.
Many students have claimed that the walkouts are necessary to put more focus on school safety and force legislators to pass stricter gun laws.
Regardless of a school district’s decision, it’s a decision that must be made with thoughtfulness and deliberation, and it must be adequately communicated to the community.