National School Walkout Sweeps The Nation

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Today, students in the US will participate in a National School Walkout. One month after the Parkland, FL school shooting, students across the country are coming together to raise their voices against gun violence. Event organizers hope the ENOUGH National School Walkout will be successful in calling on Congress to pass stricter gun control measures.

Students plan to walk out of class for 17 minutes. During those 17 minutes students will observe a moment of silence, give speeches, and protest. The 17 minute long walkout symbolizes the 17 people who died in the Parkland, FL shooting. Students as young as 12 and 13 have taken to the streets today protest gun violence bearing signs with slogans like, “Thoughts and Prayers Don’t Stop Bullets.”

Organizers for the event issued a statement reading:

Some students plan to circle their school holding hands while others will congregate in hallways to hold hands, sing songs or stand together in silence. Others plan to speak the names of people killed by gun violence — from the 17 students killed in Parkland to members of their own family or community.

Event organizers have revealed that over 3,000 walkouts are scheduled across the country and even in the US Virgin Islands. There will be participants in all 50 states. Student groups in countries as diverse as Mexico, Israel, Germany, Switzerland, and Australia will host their own walkouts in solidarity with the National School Walkout taking place across the US. The American School in London will also host a walkout. Izzy Harris, a student at the school told ABC she will be participating in the walkout “to demonstrate that the U.S. government needs to make changes to their gun laws.”

The walkout will commence at 10 am and begin with one minute of silence for the victims of the Parkland shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School.

A Message for Congress

The Women’s March has been lending their support to the event. Women’s March Youth Coordinator Tabitha St. Bernard Jacobs helped students organize the National School Walkout. The activist told ABC News that students and the Women’s March hope to apply pressure on Congress to pass gun control measures.

She also said the event is meant to speak out against gun violence in general, an epidemic that has ravaged so many communities. In Chicago, for example, 2017 saw 3,457 shooting victims including 246 children according to the Chicago Police Department. Despite some of the strictest gun laws in the country, the gun violence has become such an epidemic, high school students in the Second City are now learning how to treat bullet wounds.

Columbine High School in Colorado, which saw a school shooting in 1999 that shocked the nation, will participate in the walkout. The school district reports that students will walk out of class at 10 am and convene at the Columbine shooting memorial. There they will observe the moment of silence before listening to student speakers. Some students will choose not to participate and will be able to stay in class for those 17 minutes.

At Majory Stoneman Douglas High School, students and teachers held a rally on the football field. In Washington DC students took to the White House to show their frustrations to the current administration. Students help signs with slogans including “Fire Politicians, Not Guns” and “Books not Bullets.”

Schools and Freedom of Speech

Many schools, like Columbine, are supportive of the walkout, some are even integrating the National School Walkout into civics classes, while others have indicated they will take disciplinary measures against students who plant to walk out of class.

The potential for disciplinary action has raised questions about whether or not students have the right to freedom of speech on school campuses. From a legal perspective, public schools must protect the freedom of speech of students because they are publically funded. At some private schools, however, especially Catholic schools, students are required to waive their right to free speech before enrolling. California has slightly different laws. In the Golden State freedom of speech rights extend to private school students as well, but not those at religious schools.

That being said, schools have the legal right to punish students for not attending class, so long as the punishment for attending the protest is consistent with the punishment for cutting class. In other words, students cannot receive a special punishment for protesting, only for missing class.

At one school in Illinois, if students walk out of class, then they must participate in an after school discussion on gun violence, as a way of signalling their commitment to the cause and proving they are not using the National School Walkout as an excuse to cut class. Students who fail to do so will receive a detention.

Organizers have likewise been concerned that students might treat the event as a way to avoid going to class. Lauren Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, FL shooting tweeted:

Remember why we are walking out. We are walking out for my friends that passed, all children that have been taken because of gun violence. We are walking out for the empty desks in my classes, and the unsaid goodbyes. This epidemic of School shootings must stop.

Trump Responds

President Trump has given mixed responses on the school shooting epidemic. On the campaign trail and after the Parkland shooting, Trump indicated that a mental health crisis was to blame. It is certainly true that school psychologists are overworked and understaffed. Likewise for guidance counselors, while teachers get virtually no training in identifying and responding to mental illness in students.

The President has also blamed Obama-era discipline policies and violent video games. After meeting with students from Majory Stoneman Douglas High School, President Trump had indicated he would make a push to increase the age for purchasing assault weapons to 21, but it now seems this plan will be abandoned. This week the Trump administration announced a “pragmatic” plan to curb gun violence in schools, which would include providing self defense and arms training to teachers.

For the students of Parkland, FL, the National School Walkout is not the end of the line for them. They are currently organizing a march on DC. The event, “March for Our Lives,” will be held in the nation’s capital on March 24th.

While the walkout will target mostly high schools, universities and middle schools will also be participating. To follow the story, use the hashtag #nationalschoolwalkout and #enough.

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