LA Unified Encouraged Students to Participate in the 17-Minute Program, DJUSD Threatened to Punish Theirs

Statement by Board Trustee Madhavi Sunder

(Madhavi Sunder, Board Trustee, made the following statement at March 15, 2018 Davis School Board Meeting).

I would like to request that the Board address the issue of discipline for student walkouts at our next scheduled meeting on April 5.

I believe that the district and the Board failed to take advantage of a unique educational opportunity that this emergent national youth movement presents. A million children mobilized peacefully and passionately across the country at 10 a.m. yesterday to tell their elected representatives in Washington, DC that the right to be safe and secure in school is a fundamental human right.

I am incredibly proud that 1300 Davis students joined them. More than 200 elementary school students in Davis participated in the organized national walkout, heeding the lesson that our district has been teaching them from kindergarten that if you have the feeling that something is wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up. Our Junior High and High School students spent the 17 minutes giving students information about how to contact their representatives in Washington and registering students who will be 18 in ‘18 to vote. I was proud to stand with some 200 students at Holmes Jr. High, where the students ended the walkout with a 2 minute “Die-In” where students laid out on the green while the names of the 17 Parkland victims were read aloud.

Districts across the country, including LA Unified, encouraged schools to participate in the 17 minute program to honor the 17 victims in Parkland who were killed one month ago.

I am disappointed that Davis took a tentative approach to this national event, the purpose of which was first and foremost to honor the innocent fallen – students, teachers and staff. We are all Parkland. I believe it would have been empowering to Davis students, teachers and staff to have more fully supported their engagement in this national moment of mourning and advocacy for safe schools.

The walkout to commemorate the victims in Parkland was about healing through a national trauma together, and honoring innocent child victims and the heroic teachers and coaches who put their lives on the line for their students.

These students have just begun. Next time – which I believe will be as soon as next month – our district should be better prepared. I would like the opportunity for our Board to think about what our district policy should be going forward. This is an unprecedented moment, and our schools must be creative in engaging our students’ passion and desire to effect change in our democracy. This, after all, is why we are here – to teach our students that they can make a difference, that the world needs their knowledgeable, compassionate, courageous voice.

If we in the schools don’t show them how to be thoughtful and engaged citizens, who will?

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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  1. Cindy Pickett

    She was referring to the next round of school walkouts to protest gun violence. April 20th is the anniversary of Columbine and newspapers have been reporting that students around the country plan to walkout again.

  2. Tia Will

    I agree completely with Ms. Sunder. I note the contrast between the restrictive attitude taken by the administration here and that taken by the Bay Area district where my daughter teaches which was fully supportive of the 17 minute observation at all levels, elementary, middle and high school.

  3. John Hobbs

    The sad thing here is that if parents loved their kids more than their right to own guns, the problem wouldn’t exist. Only 1/3 of American households claim gun ownership, but there are literally 1,000,001 guns for every 1,000,000 citizens in the USA. We have too f*cking many guns in this country and they are too f*cking easy to get.  The fact that our children feel compelled to take this action should shame all of us who have been so remiss in their protection.

    1. Ken A

      The reason “only” 1/3 of Americans claim gun ownership is that just like most gays that live in areas full of crazy right wingers are still “in the closet” most gun owners that live in areas full of crazy left wingers are also forced to stay “in the closet”…

  4. rrdavis

    I think the school district did the right thing. There’s a policy in place that governs this situation. Administrative Regulation 5131.4 says that any student who participates in a protest that involves nonattendance shall be given an unexcused absence. To flout that policy for a particular political cause could lead to big problems going forward, e.g., if another group wanted to protest and the district refused to give them equal treatment.

    This was a political protest. The walkout was organized by the Youth Empower faction of the Women’s March. And it came with specific demands: that Congress pass S. 2095, to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines; S. 2009, to expand background checks for all gun sales; H.R. 2598/S. 1212, to pass a gun violence restraining order law; and S. 1856/H.R. 1556, the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

    How can a school district officially endorse such an overtly political assembly, if it won’t allow others? (If you want to generally allow political protests, maybe a policy could be written for that. But it hasn’t been.)

    One idea would’ve been to redefine the walkout, as a memorial or a generic call for school safety. As I see it, that would’ve been extremely disrespectful. If the district wants to hold an event like that, fine, but don’t do it on the same day, at the same time, that students have planned a protest to demand the changes in law listed above! The students deserve more respect than that.

    Fortunately, following existing policy, and allowing the protest to go on without undermining its message, resulted in no real harm. It’s just an unexcused absence. That’s not going to silent these students and their political movement. Good thing, too.


        1. David Greenwald

          “Used”?  I don’t think if you talk to the students, they feel they were used.  This is the kind of cynical manipulation that turns people off from political activism.  Everything no matter how benign gets twisted.

        2. Keith O

          I noticed on several websites where adults and parents were talking up the student walkouts prior tp the actual date.  It made me wonder how student grass roots the protests actually were and then I read:

          The walkout was organized by the Youth Empower faction of the Women’s March.

          So my answer to that is Hmmmmm…..

        3. Ron

          Meaning (in general) that children/youth are following (and influenced by) adults who have their own political views (and ultimately, by their own parents)?  Until they’re old enough to think for themselves? (And sometimes even then, influenced by the political leanings of the geographic area that they grow up in?)

          (Regardless of the issue.) Yeah, I “broadened” the question. Suspect that I will be sorry I did so. 🙂


          1. Don Shor

            At 17 my brother’s class was organizing walkouts against the Vietnam war in direct contravention of the school’s policies. They were facing life-altering decisions such as the draft lottery, which literally was deciding your fate when you were a young man trying to make plans for college or work. It is startling how much an existential threat to your very future can make you become politically aware and active. My rock-ribbed Republican grandfather voted for George McGovern in 1972 because he had three grandsons in line to become cannon fodder. His generation wasn’t leading the way on the issue, they were following. The young people hit the streets because their lives were at stake.
            When my daughter was 17 she certainly had fully-formed opinions about politics and world events and was quite capable of making life decisions. She was also facing a war and felt strongly about it. We had many discussions about what was going on. When I was a judge for her debate team at regional competitions I encountered extremely articulate teenagers who were sharp and capable of thinking for themselves. It is simply a condescending disparagement to suggest that these teenagers are not capable of initiating social movements, with or without the assistance of their parents. Yes, we mostly adopt our parents’ values and views, but not entirely. I don’t look at young people pressing for change and assume they’re being manipulated. Others may be trying to get on board the train and take advantage of the energy and direction, but they aren’t the ones leading the way.

        4. Ron

          I see/understand your point, especially regarding change being initiated by young people.  However, I still think that parents/social environments have a very strong influence on young people.  (That can include “movements”, in which they ultimately take the lead regarding change.)

          As “evidence”, I’d suggest that young people in California are much more supportive of gun control, than young people in Texas.  (For example, I recently saw a news report that described a small town there, in which some teachers were apparently “packing heat”.  The students seemed supportive, of that.)  (I don’t think it’s a good idea, but there you go.) Of course, one might argue that the small size of that school and district plays a role.

          I do believe that as one gets older, you tend to question what your parents/social environment value, perhaps more than when you’re younger.  I don’t view that as “condescending”, but perhaps a maturing process, to some degree. (As one gets older, there’s also a degree of “resignation” regarding the status quo, which occurs. I’m not suggesting that’s a good thing.)


        5. Ron

          This is probably school that I was referring to:

          “In the awful aftermath of last week’s Connecticut elementary school shooting, lawmakers in a growing number of states — including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon — have said they will consider laws allowing teachers and school administrators to carry firearms at school.”

          Kind of surprised to see Oregon on this list. (Maybe the more conservative areas, such as where the wildlife refuge was “commandeered”.)


      1. Tia Will

        The walkout was organized by the Youth Empower faction of the Women’s March.”

        The UCD students that participated and the students in my daughter’s class were not organized by this group. I think that this is an over generalization.

        1. Ken A

          I’m wondering if Tia thinks that it was a just  “coincidence” that her daughters class and UCD kids decided to protest on the “exact same day” as the day the people who want to ban “scary black guns” wanted a lot of students to protest…

        2. rrdavis

          I’m not sure how that changes things. Generally speaking, the walkout was a demand for Congress to take action with regard to gun control. At the very least, it was reasonable for the district to think so. How can they make an exception to their policy for that particular cause without running the risk of later violating the First Amendment by applying the policy in other situations? Why wouldn’t that be viewpoint discrimination?

  5. Howard P

    So, again the topic morphs… from the issue of student protests and discipline, to gun control itself… surprise, surprise… but it appears there are those who would like it to morph further, to how do children/young adults form their opinions and judgements.

    BTW Ron, Texas is an open-carry state… few growing up in Texas would see teachers carrying guns as unusual…

    1. Ron

      “BTW Ron, Texas is an open-carry state… few growing up in Texas would see teachers carrying guns as unusual…”

      Exactly my point.

      But yes – the topic has drifted. (In all honesty, I don’t view the primary topic regarding how the local school district handled an absence as one of great importance.)

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