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17 Minutes: National School Walkout—March 14

The Nationwide School Walkout, planned by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER group, will take place on Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m. The first 17 minutes will be dedicated to the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School shooting. Many students will wear orange—the chosen color for gun control, while others will wear burgundy and silver, MSD’s school colors.


Throughout our region, school systems, both public and private, have established guidelines concerning how the staff and administrators of their schools should respond if their students choose to participate in this event. Some schools have been asked to allow students to participate in the event and not receive punishment for doing so. Other schools are providing alternative programs and activities for students to express themselves. The most popular option being a walk-in, where students can still leave class to participate, but will remain on school property, still supervised by faculty. Still a few will not allow students to participate, warning any students who do so will face disciplinary action.

Though the students are in school, their First Amendment right to protest still applies, as long as they are not being disruptive. The Supreme Court addressed students’ First Amendment rights in Tinker vs. Des Moines in December 1965, when 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker was a junior high school student. She and a group of students decided to wear black armbands to school to protest the war in Vietnam. The school board was forewarned of the protest and passed a preemptive ban. When Mary Beth arrived at school on December 16, she was asked to remove the armband. When she refused, she and the other students with armbands were sent home. When they returned to school they wore black clothes to continue the protest.

The ACLU took up their case, which made it to the Supreme Court, which ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate” as long as the protest is not disruptive. This is not to say a student who leaves school property cannot be charged with an unexcused absence.

Also of note, private schools do have more leeway about the walkout and can forbid students from taking part. Once enrolled in private school, the First Amendment right is no longer guaranteed and students are expected to adhere to their school’s policies. That said, many private schools are also offering an on-campus alternative. James B. Sellinger, the chancellor of education for the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Baltimore sent a letter to parents which stated, “To help students of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore participate in this effort in a more productive and appropriate way, we will be offering our elementary and secondary school students the opportunity to attend a special 17-minute prayer service. The service will allow students to come together with faculty to pray for peace, and an end to all violence, especially the violence that has claimed so many lives on American school campuses.”

In Anne Arundel County, several public high schools have sent letters out detailing the alternative plans, as many administrators—as well as parents—are concerned for the students’ safety should they walk out. For example, Severna Park High School offered the opportunity for students and faculty to purchase for $2, a “17” silver pin to be worn on March 14th, with proceeds going to the official victims’ fund for MSD. At the start of advisory period on March 14, a PA announcement will ask for 17 seconds of silence, followed by the reading of the names of the 17 victims of the tragedy. Students are also encouraged to wear burgundy and silver.

Walkout 1Old Mill High School has also suggested students wear the MSD colors, and will have 17 seconds of silence during morning announcements. There will also be a banner for students and staff to sign with messages of support that will be sent to MSD.

Prince George’s County Public School’s CEO Kevin Maxwell, Ph.D., sent out a letter to parents in which he states, “Though not organized by Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), we support the spirit of the National School Walkout. Please know that any participation is strictly voluntary and students are expected to return to class once the walkout ends at 10:17 a.m. on Wednesday.” Faculty and staff have been directed to provide a safe space for students participating in the walkout, as well as a safe space for those who choose not to join in the protest.

Not everyone is onboard with the walkout. “My kid is in middle school, if he walks out he better be ready to give up All video games with guns!!” says Amanda Sokolus. “Plus their school is in a remote spot so I’m not sure where they will walk to? Around the building a few times, no I do not support it. And he likes guns, so he would walk out just to “be cool”.”

Tammy Callender’s daughter attends Old Mill High School. When Callender reached out to the school administration about the student walkout, she was told in an email that while her daughter has every right to participate in a protest, Anne Arundel County Public Schools does not support a student walkout. While she appreciates the efforts of the administration to provide other options, she says, “I feel strongly that they should have the right to walk out.” Her daughter will be walking out with her permission.





 Whatsyour1717 reasons to make a difference
#whatsyour17 campaign…

Some of the choices suggested by the students of Severna Park High School:

-Write 17 questions that could be asked of a panel of experts in an upcoming assembly and/or presentation on school safety and security that is being planned by SGA students and adviser.

-Write a letter to the President, or Congress, or local politicians, or NRA, or school board enacting change, or for advocacy of safer schools.

-Write a kind letter or note to 17 people.

-Make friends with 17 students you normally wouldn’t.

-Smile at 17 people you normally wouldn’t smile at.

-Say a kind word to 17 people whom you might not have spoken to.

-Open your heart to 17 people who might be hurting.

-Offer friendship to 17 people who might have none.

-Sit with 17 different people in the cafeteria.

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