Last week 2,000 high school students walked out of Green Hope High School to demand political change and tougher gun control laws in the wake of a shooting massacre in Florida that claimed the lives of 15 students and 2 teachers.
School officials did nothing to stop the event. In fact, they seemed to encourage it. They pointed to changes made by Wake County Board of Education in the Code of Student Conduct to allow protests, picketing and walkouts on school campuses. What prompted the changes? It seems the changes were largely in response to a 2010 Department of Education investigation that asked whether Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) disciplinary policies discriminated against African Americans. That’s a whole other subject and we don’t have time to go there. Suffice it to say WCPSS spokeswoman Lisa Luten, summed up the changes when she said, “Participation in a peaceful protest wouldn’t qualify for disciplinary action.” If a student participated in a peaceful protest, he or she will be marked absent but the bottom line is they won’t be subject to disciplinary action.
WCPSS said teachers have been advised not to endorse rallies or encourage students to leave class, but they do talk to students about safety.
It’s apparent that WCPSS is trying to clearly position itself in the middle of the debate and appear neutral. It’s not working.
On February 27th the News & Observer published, Why Wake County won’t punish students who protest gun violence. Read it. It offers no reason why WCPSS won’t punish students. It merely declares that protests are acceptable if students protest in a peaceful manner and that WCPSS is doing so to respect the free speech rights of all students. Does that mean 100 friends can miss math class next Tuesday to protest UN refugee policy or the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy? If not, how is it not viewpoint discrimination. The WCPSS policy change to allow demonstrations has opened a large can of worms.
WCPSS says it’s giving a green light to demonstrations by students. WCPSS also says the demonstrations aren’t political. But let’s call them what they are — political demonstrations. They are called to take political action and the action is gun control.
WCPSS says it’s merely hoping to allow kids to exercise their constitutional rights and to stay safe. Students are already talking about joining nationwide rallies against school gun violence on March 14th, March 17th and April 20th; Enough: National School Walkout event planned for March 14th is being coordinated by the Woman’s March Network. A quick Internet search reveals that the Women’s’ March Network is part of the Action Network. According to the organization’s web site, “Action Network is a nonprofit dedicated to building power for the progressive movement, so we don’t have clients — we have partners, and we can mobilize your activists together.” Action Network is not shy about advertising the organization’s politics. When it says, “Powering Progressives from the grassroots on up.” and “Action Network only works with Progressives.” Action Network partners include organizations such as the National Education Association, AFL-CIO and Daily Kos.
WCPSS said they won’t endorse or encourage a nationwide rally planned for April 20th. But as Mark Wright, principal of Apex Friendship High School told the News and Observer, “If they do [ask], I advise them about safety: staying away from traffic and being orderly because their safety is my prime concern.”
Let’s state something we all agree on: what happened in Parkland was a horrible unimaginable crime that took the lives of seventeen innocent individuals and forever scarred a school and community. Schools should be safe places where parents can trust that their children are in good hands. How we ensure that safety is where people differ and hold deep differences. It’s a discussion that has been going on for a long time and one that we need to have.
School safety is an important topic, but what compels WCPSS to provide time during the school day for students to demonstrate? It appears WCPSS is picking and choosing which issues are worthy of protest. WCPSS leaders talk about having conversations at school and home about important topics. It’s a worthy goal and most people are fine with those conversations. The jump from conversation to demonstration is an action that lacks justification. Those actions coupled with efforts to propel and advocate for political action while proclaiming a stance of neutrality are actions that many parents find objectionable.
Disagreements aside, WCPSS leaders will continue to say the demonstrations are not political and that their main concern is school safety and to ensure that such actions don’t disrupt the schools. Last week 70 percent of the student body of Green Hope High School walked out of the school to demand change. Evidently that doesn’t qualify as a disruption. Maybe we should ask the students who didn’t participate.
Commenting on recent gun violence in the schools, Jim Martin, a member of the Wake County School Board called for gun control. To date, I have yet to hear clarifications that Mr. Martin’s statements don’t reflect the views of the Wake County Board of Education.
In the meantime, WCPSS spokeswoman Lisa Luten will continue to tell others that efforts by principals to work with students to make sure walkouts are done safely shouldn’t be interpreted as the district taking a position on gun control.
Is all that clear?