Tomorrow, a nationwide school walkout will memorialize those seventeen teenagers and teachers murdered on Valentine’s Day a month ago and call attention to the ongoing murder of teens and teachers in our schools. This is a protest for awareness and policy change. We’ve long moved past the need for thoughts and prayers, and, those of us who support tomorrow’s protest, would like to see some real change on gun violence – and not just for upper middle class folks in South Florida.
For those of you who have questions, particularly about walkouts here in the South, we’ve rounded up a few answers from across the internet.
First, are kids going to get in trouble for walking out?
It depends. The ACLU has written up a breakdown on student rights, such as they are. The short answer is yes – free speech and what is considered “disruptive” to the functioning of a school are up largely up to the school to determine. We see this debate rage whenever a student wears a t-shirt with a Confederate Flag or even about being gay in Tennessee.
However, some school districts are allowing students to choose, without fear of punishment, whether they wish to walk out or not – this being a tacit approval of their right to protest. They’re leaning in to the protests – to keep them safe and orderly, presumably. But, also, a lot of teachers would like to support these protests too.
A few school districts have been very clear that they will be doling out punishments if students walk out, though there are others that are hoping to provide a “safe alternative.” One Alabama student organized an alternative day of activities when she was told a walkout was forbidden.
Why won’t administrators just let students protest?
Gwinnett County school administrators in Georgia claim it’s not fair to let students protesting gun violence get a walkout when drug prevention advocates have to sell candy bars. But most anti-walkout school districts are insisting that it’s simply not safe. The ACLU is having none of that excuse.
So, what happens when they walk out?
For schools who are giving students the option to walk out, administrators and teachers will accompany them, like in Charleston, SC. Some are mobilizing police to monitor the protest. A police presence is fairly typical for staged protest, but, gah, this will look eerie.
For students who are breaking the rules to walk out, their schools likely have a plan in place to either punish or not punish, but some students are getting ready, just in case. Either way, the ACLU is encouraging students to know their school rules before they break them.
What advice do we have for students that aren’t just protesting gun reform but who are in this for the long haul?
Welcome present and future activists! Truthout published a great piece by Kelly Hayes today that addresses all of issues above, including safety at school and street protests and ideological reasons to use direct action protest for change. There is also a bit that tackles any guilt tweens and teens may feel about sitting this one out. It’s okay if you’re not ready, but there are a lot of reasons to get ready.
Finally, encourage students (hey, students) to stay safe and report any abusive behavior, but, also, to learn about school rules and their rights. If they suffer any consequences for the protest, they should contact their state chapter of the ACLU. Good luck, folks! Rise up!