Although fighting for school safety is honorable, Philadelphia school students should be in class during the instructional day, not engaging in walkouts organized by adults with underlying political agendas.
by Christopher Paslay
Outraged by the recent shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, students at Philadelphia area schools have decided to take a stand—or at least they’ve been encouraged by adult activists to do so. At exactly 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14th, they plan on walking out of class for 17 minutes in an effort to change current gun laws. The walkout is being organized by the Women’s March Network, the same activist group behind the Women’s March that protested President Trump’s inauguration.
The group states on its website that its aim is “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods. We need action.”
By “action” the group means baiting teenagers to ditch instruction.
How does William Hite, Superintendent of the Philadelphia School District, feel about the walkout during school hours?
“I’ll probably participate,” he said, explaining that students who decide to get up and leave class in the middle of the lesson will not be penalized.
With all due respect to Dr. Hite, his unofficial endorsement of the walkout, although well-intentioned, is misguided.
School safety is a priority, and a holistic plan to protect our students and communities—one that involves social, psychological, and mental health components—is needed. Improved gun laws may be part of this equation, too; we need to better enforce the laws that already exist, for starters.
But the school day is no time for a protest, especially one being organized by adults—not students. I’ve been teaching in Philadelphia for over 20 years, and during that time, there have been dozens of protests. A massive movement opposing the takeover of the School District by the for-profit Edison Schools, in conjunction with Mayor Street, comes to mind. But even at its most contentious, students were not permitted to walk out of the building during school hours; the protests were officially held after the school day was over.
In fact, the School District’s policy has been to strictly forbid walkouts during instructional hours. In 2011, Hope Moffett, a schoolteacher at Audenried High School, was suspended by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman for supposedly organizing a protest during school hours. Although Moffett was later cleared, the School District argued such protests were a danger to student safety, and put an undue burden on police to keep order on city streets.
Even when 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs was gunned down outside Peirce Elementary School in North Philadelphia in 2004 by a drug dealer’s bullet, students did not walk out of class; a march was organized, but not involving teenagers during instructional time.
The protest planned for March 14 is not without safety concerns. Keeping track of students once they exit the building is going to be difficult, as is enforcing the 17 minute time limit. No doubt truancy rates will rise during this time, opening up the possibility of mischief and further rule breaking.
Academics will also suffer. Lessons will be interrupted, and the learning environment before and after the walkout will be compromised.
This doesn’t even begin to address the political side of the protest, and the fact that it’s clearly indoctrinating students to one-side of the gun control debate. Is it really the School District’s place to take a side on an issue as sensitive as gun control? What will parents of students who are gun-supporters think when they learn their child’s education has been interrupted for a gun control protest?
Sure, the walkout’s not being directly labeled as such, but the gun reform narrative is clear enough. Which begs the question: why now? Where’s the outrage been for all the gun homicides in our own neighborhoods for the past 10 years? For the hundreds of Philadelphians murdered each year, not by a lawfully purchased assault rifle, but by an urban felon’s weapon of choice—an illegal handgun?
And why a walkout? Perhaps a more respectful way to make a statement and remember victims of the Florida school shooting would be to have a vigil, not a protest. Why not have students and staff come in 17 minutes early before the school day starts, and light candles or read poems? Have an informational picket to make the community aware of concerns?
Interestingly, the students I’ve spoken with don’t even know why they’re walking out. Some have told me it’s to protest Trump. Others have said it’s to stand in solidarity with Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. My response to this is, To stand in solidarity to what end? The answer to this question is obvious: To stand in solidarity for gun reform. Words like “solidarity” and “walkout” have clear political connotations, which reveal the true underlying agenda of the supposed altruistic event—to politic for gun control.
Those schools who genuinely want to show support for the victims of the Florida school shooting may want to drop the politically charged “walkout” for “solidarity,” and have a memorial or extended moment of silence. This could be done during an advisory period or special assembly schedule, one that includes all students, not just those who stand on the liberal side of the gun reform debate.
Interestingly, many students don’t have an opinion on the matter either way. All they know is that they get to walk out of class, and the chaotic nature of the protest is troubling, especially since it’s being directed from the Women’s March Network from afar.
Philadelphia school students should be in class during the instructional day, not engaging in walkouts organized by adults with underlying political agendas.