Punishing students for participating in ‘walkout’ protests makes light of life or death situation

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Punishing students for participating in ‘walkout’ protests makes light of life or death situation

Kimberly Wilson, Opinion Editor

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Following the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Fla., students all over the country have been participating in school “walkouts” to protest current gun control laws. In response to this, the Needville Independent School District in Texas promised to suspend students for three days if they participated in the walkouts or any kind of political protest.

An article by David Williams posted to CNN’s website talked about the statement Superintendent Curtis Rhodes posted to the Needville High School facebook page.

“‘Life is all about choices, and every choice has a consequence, whether it be positive or negative. We will discipline no matter if it is one, 50, or 500 students involved. All will be suspended for three days and parent notes will not alleviate the discipline,’ Rhodes said the Houston-area district would not tolerate any protests or demonstrations during school hours.  ‘A school is a place to learn and grow educationally, emotionally and morally. A disruption of the school will not be tolerated.’”

We think Rhodes’ statement reads as a little ironic in several ways, especially considering these students will be speaking out against a far more deadly kind of “school disruption.” Punishing these students might also not even be legal.

According to an article by Eli Rosenberg on the Washington Post’s website, “Constitutional scholars described Rhodes’s threats as a blatant violation of free-speech rights. ‘“It’s a quintessential First Amendment violation, and most Americans have an instinct about that,”’ Heidi Li Feldman, a professor at Georgetown Law, said in an interview. ‘“What’s really weird about this is that they announced they will suspend people over the content of their off-campus protest. Content-based restrictions on speech are anathema to the First Amendment. So this looks like a total problem.”’

Punishing students for what should only be considered their brave activism de-legitimizes their very real concerns. Receiving punishment signifies you have done something wrong. We should be very concerned with what is implicit in telling young people who are taking a stand the only way they know how they are wrong for doing so.    

Being gunned down isn’t something students should worry about while they are trying to learn. Whether or not one agrees with the student protesters’ stance on gun control, the epidemic of mass shootings is costing more and more people their lives. Students are right to be worried for their safety at this point. For this literal life or death cause, any reasonable person should realize missing class for a day is more than worth it.  

It should be common sense that we shouldn’t allow people who are not mentally stable to get their hands on a weapon specifically designed to seriously harm or kill someone. Not adjusting gun regulations is completely irresponsible. Too many people are paying for the government’s lack of judgement with their lives.

Technically, high schools are within their right to punish students who engage in truancy, no matter the reason. In this instance, however, it seems nonsensical that all schools wouldn’t make an exception. These protests could always be held on the weekend, but part of what makes this movement so impactful is students physically walking out of school.

The symbolism of students refusing to stay in a place someone can too easily walk in and murder them in is a powerful concept meant to convey a very strong message. By allowing students to protest without the threat of punishment, places like Arlington County are aligning themselves on the right side of history. All schools should be proud of their students for working to effect change, not want to punish them for it.