Jeffrey Bary/Flickr. CC 2.0
As kids across America participated in #NationalWalkoutDay, some were slapped with suspensions. What should grownups do about it? Take them to school.
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How many kids are sitting home today, after a massive country-wide school walkout to advocate for gun control in this country? One month after the Parkland school shooting, where 17 people died, more than a million students walked out of class at 10 a.m. and marched or rallied for 17 minutes, in honor of each of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School fatalities. There were more than 3,000 organized protests nationwide.
Many school systems were supportive. But others, including schools in Texas, Georgia, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, Illinois, and California threatened disciplinary action, including suspension, if students went through with it. Sixth-grader Ryan Barber is just one student stuck at home for exercising her First Amendment rights. In Chicago, police targeted just one teenager, Kenwood Academy junior Aminah Glenn, who is Black, for arrest as dozens walked alongside her. In Greenbrier, Arkansas, one student’s parent named Jerusalem Grier took to social media to report that their rural, conservative school offered the 17-year-old protesters two punitive options, one of which was corporal punishment, which is legal in the state: the kids chose it. “This generation isn’t playing around,” she wrote in the tweet, which went viral. Others students across the nation tweeted about how teachers and administrators prevented them from protesting—locking gates, holding forced-participation assemblies at exactly 10 a.m., and threatening suspension—while others still allowed students to assemble and peacefully protest, only to silence them in the middle of it all.
Parents and students alike are incensed at this development, and in a frenzy over what to do about it.
I say parents should drop their kids off at school.
That’s right. Parents of suspended children should drop their children off at school as if nothing happened.
Because what, at that point, is the school going to do about it?
Many school officials have stated that they were against the walkout due to student safety. The kids are safer inside the school building than out of it, they explained. And if that is the case, a suspension flies right in the face of their argument. Kicking kids out of school because you wanted them to stay in school to be safer yesterday just doesn’t make any sense.
And many parents can’t handle the unnecessary strain of children at home during the workday. What if they are middle-schoolers, like Ryan, and require childcare? The schools are being reckless there, for all their talk of student security.
Safety aside, how far can schools go in student punishments? The First Amendment does grant the students some rights, and according to the ACLU, children have the right to express their political views so long as those expressions are not massively disruptive. Of course, schools can interpret walkouts as disruptive, but even then, they are limited in the punishments they technically should be able to hand out.
Most schools can count the walkout as an unexcused absence, meaning unless their policy is to automatically suspend students after one unexcused absence, they are in danger of punishing students solely for expressing political views, which is not allowed, according to a 1969 Supreme Court ruling.
In essence, the governmental cornerstones of this nation outweigh local grownups throwing tantrums.
If the punishments aren’t legitimate, or you deem them excessive, why bind yourselves to arbitrary rules?
By ignoring the punishment handed out by the schools, the movement will move even further forward. It forces the schools’ hands, in a way. Are they going to turn hundreds of students out onto the street to hold their ground? Are they going to hold school as if nothing happened? Are they going to have a mass in-school suspension?
I, for one, would love to find out. These kids are asking for a ban on assault weapons, universal background checks, and a gun-violence restraining order. They are doing so because they are literally dying, day by day, from guns. Honestly, how many teenagers are now more involved in our country’s politics than their adult counterparts were? Or perhaps, we should hark back to our own protest days to remember how important they were. We should support our students, not a school-system structure that allows for punishment for their request to stay alive.
I think this is a necessary civics lesson for our current students, and for all of us watching them stand up for their rights to life.
If your kid was suspended, why not bring them to school and see what happens? Push the envelope the way our kids are pushing the envelope, and maybe, just maybe, something will be done to end this cycle of gun violence.
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