Students are being punished for participating in national walkout
On Wednesday, students all across the United States participated in National Walkout Day. They walked out of class for seventeen minutes to protest gun violence, and demand action from lawmakers. That's one minute for every victim who died at the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The 19-year-old killer was mentally ill, and still able to legally purchase an AR-15, which he used to commit the massacre.
The walkout took different forms at different schools. In Columbus Ohio, students walked outside in freezing weather, and named each victim as they released a balloon. In Orange County, Florida, they gathered 17 empty desks in a courtyard and sang Michael Jackson's "Heal The World." In Washington, D.C., students gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and chanted "enough is enough." At Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta, students weren't allowed to walk out, so 600 of them took a knee. Some students took a moment of silence. Some students organized marches and rallies. It was an inspiring display of activism.
The responses to the walkout varied, depending on the school district. Some administrators said they wouldn't punish students for walking out of class, while other administrators have taken disciplinary action. Many students have been served with detention - including over 200 students at a school in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Students in Kansas City, Missouri chose between a half-hour of detention or a disciplinary meeting. In Scotsdale, Arizona, forty students were suspended for a day. And three students at Greenbrier Public School in Alabama will allegedly face corporal punishment.
Some administrators threatened the students with disciplinary action in advance, and they walked out, knowing they'd be punished. The superintendent of the Needville Independent School District in Texas threatened students with a three-day-suspension for "any type of protest or awareness." (Yeah, what a terrible thing for students to be "aware.") The principal of Cherry High School East in New Jersey said that any students who walked out would be suspended, and banned from the senior trip and prom. (But it remains to be seen if these administrators made good on their threats.)
According to the ACLU, schools have the right to discipline students for walking out of class, regardless of the reason. However, the punishment cannot be any harsher, just because it was a political protest, or related to activism. They encourage students to look up the policies at their specific school, as the punishments vary from district to district.
The students who walked out stressed they weren't organizing to support any particular political party, but rather to demand action from lawmakers to mitigate the epidemic of gun violence. America has significantly less gun control and significantly more mass shootings than every other civilized country. And sadly, many of these shootings take place in schools.
If the current generation refuses to do anything, it's good to know the next generation is educated and passionate. Surprisingly, some of the students-turned-activists were very young. At an elementary school in Virginia, one 11-year-old organizer gave a reporter a handwritten "press packet." Fifth grade students at a school in Akron, Ohio made their own posters. And in perhaps the best moment, a reporter asked a 12-year-old boy in Washington, D.C. if he thought he could make a difference. The 12-year-old replied, "By myself, I don't think I have the power. But together with all these people here, I think we can make a change."