From the states of Maine to Hawaii, students walked out of school Wednesday to protest gun violence in the United States. The nationwide demonstration is part of a student movement against gun violence created after last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen students and teachers were killed in an attack there on February 14.
The event includes about 3,000 protests across the country. Some students planned roadside demonstrations to honor shooting victims and protest violence. Others held demonstrations in school sports centers or on football fields. In the states of Massachusetts, Georgia and Ohio, students went to the statehouses to pressure lawmakers for new and stronger rules on guns.
Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, loosely organized the activism. The group urged students to leave class at 10 in the morning local time for 17 minutes. Each minute represents one person who died in the recent school shooting in Parkland.
The group also called on students to make demands of their lawmakers, including an assault weapons ban. The group said on its website, “Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence.”
Communities shape their own protests
Each community was urged to shape its own protest. Parents and teachers in many areas worked together to organize activities that would be right for different ages of students.
At Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, a group of 10 and 11-year-olds designed their walkout after youth marches for civil rights in 1963. Case instructors said students lined a sidewalk along a nearby road, carrying posters with the names of Parkland victims.
Students in Massachusetts demonstrated outside offices of the gun maker Smith & Wesson. They called on the gun maker to help reduce gun violence.
Officials at Boston Public Schools held a whole day of observance Wednesday. They organized several activities “to provide healthy and safe” ways for students to express their opinions and concerns.
Several American companies showed support for the walkouts. Media conglomerate Viacom suspended programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the action. It also permitted students to temporarily take control of MTV’s social media sites.
What do school officials say?
But school administrators across the country had mixed reactions to students’ activism. Some have praised students for taking a stand. Others threatened to take measures against students for school absences.
Districts in Sayreville, New Jersey, and Maryland’s Harford County drew criticism this week when they said students could face punishment for leaving class. In Pensacola, Florida, Superintendent Malcolm Thomas ordered an in-school gathering instead. He warned students that they could discuss voting and mental health issues, but not guns. He also said political signs would not be permitted.
Free speech supporters readied for battle.
The American Civil Liberties Union said schools cannot legally punish students for the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they will provide free legal help to students who are punished. The ACLU of Georgia sent guidance letters to districts. The letters said, “The United States Supreme Court has long held that students do not ‘shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.’”
Many students in and around Atlanta, Georgia ignored threats of punishment for their actions.
“Change never happens without backlash,” said Kara Litwin, a final year student at Pope High School in the Cobb County School District.
Lian Kleinman is in her third year at Pope High School. She said the possibility of being suspended from school “is overwhelming, and I understand that it’s scary for a lot of students. For me personally this is something I believe in, this is something I will go to the ends of the Earth for.”
More nationwide action is planned for the coming weeks. The March for Our Lives demonstration is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to Washington, DC, on March 24. Another set of school walkouts is planned for April 20. That date marks the 19th anniversary of the deadly shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
The Associated Press reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
Words in This Story
assault - n. a violent physical attack
response - n. something that is done as a reaction to something else
conglomerate - n. a large business that is made of different kinds of companies
network - n. a group of radio or television stations that usually broadcast the same programs
shed - v. to lose or drop
backlash - n. a strong public reaction against something