April 20 is known for many reasons, but one title it has earned is “National School Walkout” day, with this distinction stemming from the Columbine High School tragedy on April 20, 1999. In an article for Vox, Jen Kirby claims that this year’s event “will be a test for the staying power of this new wave of activism,” as the day stands for “a grim marker in line of mass murders.”
Over 2,600 walkouts were planned across the nation, with students encouraged to gather outside at 10 a.m. on Friday for a moment of silence to honor all the victims of gun violence. “The walkout is encouraging day-long protests, both on campus and outside of school, including marches, speakers, and voter registration drives. Participants are encouraged to wear orange, the color of the anti-gun violence movement,” Kirby writes.
Though recent protests have stirred up both praise and resentment, this day of honor seems to be an indisputable right of school students — nonviolently commiserating lost classmates and peers. Furthermore, this day has unfortunately become hyper-relevant, as gun drills and fear of active shootings has become a dismal reality of American schoolchildren. However, not all school systems in the area feel this way.
A day prior to the event, a concerned parent shared information that Allen High School and Lowery Freshman Center in Allen, Texas threatened students with discipline if they participated in or promoted the walkout on social media.
“Contrary to what has been stated on social media outlets and other communications, the district and our campus do not support this action or any other disruption to the instructional day,” an e-mail to parents from Jill Stafford, Principal of Lowery Freshman Center stated. “If a student decides to participate in the walk-out, they will be marked absent based on district attendance policies and will be disciplined based upon the Student Code of Conduct.”
One senior at Allen High School has been promoting the event with some classmates, many who were deterred from participating due to threats of school consequences.
“I, as well as the student leaders, most of whom didn’t walk at 10 am because they were scared of the consequences set by administration, believe that the forced time change [to an after-school rally] was the cause for the drop in numbers,” the student said. “I believe it was so wrong of administration to ‘change their minds’ and violate our first amendment rights.
“We weren’t marching just to get out of class for a few minutes. We marched because we are living in a time where we feel unsafe to attend school because of our loose gun laws. Because any day could be the day that we never see our family, our brothers and sisters, our girlfriends and boyfriends or our best friends ever again. We walked out, because one child is worth more than all the guns in the world. We demand change, and if a detention or an unexcused absence from school is what it takes to make a monumental change, so be it,” the student said. “I am so proud of everyone who decided to walkout, whether it be at 10 a.m. or after school, because we were able to show that we would not be silenced. We are the voices of the new generation, and no matter how many times we get shut down, we will be heard.”
“Allen ISD could have used this as a teachable moment,” the student’s mother said in an e-mail. “With how long this day has been planned, every teacher could have used this to talk about how change happens in our country and foster the passion this generation is now showing for speaking up and creating change.
“And the kids would have learned far more than they ever would have learned sitting in a classroom and being taught to take a test. In addition, the right to free speech and the right to peacefully protest are the hallmarks upon which our nation is founded. Many of our founding fathers were not adults by today’s definition — yet where would be be without them? These kids have rights.”
Besides falling under our constitutional rights, just why is student protesting so important?
In a March 2018 article for the New York Times, writer Maggie Astor reviewed seven times in history when students engaged in activism — with the most recent case being the students of Stoneman Douglas protesting for gun control in the wake of a shooting at their school.
“Several of those students, and their critics, have noted the incongruity of teenagers getting involved in politics,” Astor writes. “But history is full of movements led by students — albeit usually in college, not high school. Some were successful and others brutally crushed, but even the latter still resonate.”
The bottom line is this: by the Constitution, students have the right to freedom of speech. And many are doing much more than simply screaming, as many youth are educating themselves on laws and lobbying for informed changes. At the very least, they should be allowed to honor students who have lost their lives to gun violence.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.