Schools Should Use Walkouts in Protest of Gun Violence as a Teaching Moment

By Sarah Hinger

For 17 minutes on March 14, students and their supporters across the country are planning to walk out of their schools, honoring the victims of the Parkland school shooting and calling for Congress to pass meaningful gun regulation. Unfortunately, some schools view this act as a disruption and are threatening to discipline students who participate. A disciplinary response is a disservice to young people and a missed educational opportunity.

Too often, adults discipline students for expressing their opinions or simply being themselves. LGBTQ students have been sent home for expressing their sexual orientation, and girls have been disciplined when they challenge gendered uniform policies. Students of color are more likely than their white classmates to be disciplined, especially for subjective offenses like excessive noise. A hairstyle, a hoodie, or even a creative school science project can be seen as cause for disciplining Black and brown students. Punishment has even been invoked against students who attempt to speak up when they see abuse. That’s what happened to a high school student in Columbia, South Carolina, who was charged with “disturbing schools” after daring to speak up against a police officer’s violent mistreatment of a classmate.

The impulse to discipline and control young people may come from the desire to avoid a contentious conversation in the short term, but resorting to punishment doesn’t solve the problem, and it doesn’t keep kids safe. We’ve learned this lesson in other areas of school discipline. Adults too often rely on discipline and even policing to address student behavior rather than providing the
resources — like school counselors, special education services, and peer mentoring for teachers — necessary for a real solution. Moreover, reliance on punitive responses creates a school environment that feels more like a prison than a safe space for all students and staff.

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, and after other school shootings, there has been a rush to increase the police presence in schools. There is no evidence this approach improves safety, and in practice, students — particularly students of color and students with disabilities — often end up the targets of increased police scrutiny. Fortunately, students are taking a stand against these practices, too.

School administrators owe it to their students to examine their reaction to young peoples’ self-expression and to ask how they can help build on this moment of protest as an educational experience. As the Supreme Court observed in Brown v. Board of Education, education is “the very foundation of good citizenship.” Public school is the place where students experience and interact with government, learn through discussion and debate with other students from differing backgrounds, and build the foundation for participation in a democratic society. Rather than seeking to silence students’ political engagement and quashing their desire for conversation, schools can approach this moment as an opportunity for learning about civic action.

Several districts are planning to do just this. Local and state departments of education — in Idaho, Montana, North Carolina, and New York — as well as the School Superintendents Association have provided guidance to aid school administrators in making the March 14 actions safe and teachable moments. ACLU affiliates in multiple states, such as New Jersey, Nevada, and Texas, are urging other districts to do the same.

“Security thrives in an open, trusting environment,” as school officials from Wake County, North Carolina rightly noted. The concept of school security must include making schools places where all students are safe to be themselves and express their views.

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for

About The Author

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.

Related posts


  1. Alan Miller

    You ask for no punishment for students taking place in the protest, then state a political opinion.  Then you state examples of discrimination that have nothing to do with an unexcused absence over protesting, which is not descriminatory.

    Suppose a group of conservative students wanted to walkout to express their 2nd amendment rights.  Would you also ask that they be excused of absence?  If you say no, are you being discriminatory?  If not, why not?

    I support the students walking out.  But with protest comes responsibility.  Those students with courage will accept the dock, and don’t need soft parents fighting their (non-) battles for them.

    1. Eric Gelber

      No amen from me. The circumstances here were extraordinary. This was not just any cause. This was a cause directly impacting these students. This was students honoring their fellow students and bringing attention to the national failure to take steps to adequately address school safety. In these unique circumstances DJUSD should have stood with the students in solidarity. Instead, the District’s response was rules are rules and actions have consequences. This was a missed opportunity that sent a simplistic message in the face of what should have been treated as a common cause.

        1. Ron

          Regardless of the validity of any arguments and serious concerns regarding this issue, the main thing I’ll remember is the “no soup” response.  🙂

      1. Eric Gelber

        … the main thing I’ll remember is the “no soup” response.  🙂

        This is a sad commentary on the nature of serious discourse in this country. Too many people are easily distracted by nonsensical irrelevancies. This is why certain notable news organizations and political figures spout conspiracy theories or tweet foolishness in the wee hours of the night to divert attention from serious consideration of the real issues.

        1. Keith O

          Lighten up…..

          This is why certain notable news organizations and political figures spout conspiracy theories or tweet foolishness in the wee hours of the night to divert attention from serious consideration of the real issues.

          Ah, you must be talking about the fake conspiracy theories that MSNBC spouts nightly about Trump?

        2. Ron

          Eric: A valid point, as well.

          But then again, I’m pretty familiar with the real arguments and seriousness of the underlying issue.  Humor can be a good “relief valve”, even for serious issues.  (Even the “tweeter” sometimes makes me laugh, a little.)

        3. Eric Gelber

          Lighten up.

          Forgive me if I don’t find the same occasion for humor in discussions of mass shootings of elementary and high school students, moviegoers, concert or conference attendees, churchgoers, etc. that you and others here apparently do.

        4. Ron

          Eric:  I doubt that anyone believes that Keith was making fun of that.

          Sometimes, I think we all take ourselves too seriously. (I know that I do, almost every time I get drawn into arguments on the Vanguard. Pretty much blew a cork, just yesterday. And, that argument didn’t even involve shootings.)

        5. Eric Gelber

          I didn’t suggest he found humor in mass shootings. I said that inserting gratuitous irrelevant attempts at humor into a purportedly serious discussion of the issue was a diversion and counterproductive to meaningful discourse. Others’ responses to Keith’s post proved my point.

        6. Ron

          I guess I’m more “resigned”, regarding the issue, and don’t think what’s discussed on the Vanguard regarding a national issue (e.g., easy access to semi-automatic weapons) will make much difference.

          The entire state has essentially been written-off at the moment, politically.  (Even under prior administrations, the issue was not addressed.) The student protestors will be ignored, as well.  (At least until they’re old enough to vote, assuming that they’re still concerned about the issue at that time.)


  2. Howard P

    Went back and re-read the earlier article… did the students remain on their respective campuses or leave their campus?

    Does anyone how how long they were actually outside the classroom?  were they in class, leave to do their thing, then return to class?

    The answers to those may change my opinions.

  3. Tia Will

    Suppose a group of conservative students wanted to walkout to express their 2nd amendment rights”

    I would absolutely support their right to walk out in protest of their 2nd amendment rights, if and only if ,those rights were actually being threatened. This is not and never has been the case. However, the 17 minute students are protesting actual events that have cost other students their lives.  This is not hypothetical or philosophic, it is their reality. This is a reality that should not be trivialized by school administrations who I feel should follow the students lead on this and fully support the decision of all students, those who wish to protest, and those who do not.

    1. Alan Miller

      I support all’s ability to protest.  Giving a waiver cheapens the protest, plus is an implied administrative-support to a particular political point of view, something schools must avoid.

      1. Eric Gelber

        Giving a waiver cheapens the protest …

        That’s certainly an odd perspective. So, if an employer gives in to strikers’ demands for better working conditions, they’ve cheapened the protest?

        More to the point, this wasn’t a protest. It was an event to remember and honor  the victims of the Parkland shooting. It was intended to bring attention to a national epidemic of mass shootings and the need to address school safety. I’m sure there were varying views represented as to how to accomplish that. Sometimes common sense and reason have to be the overriding guiding principle.

        1. Keith O

          It was intended to bring attention to a national epidemic of mass shootings

          Not according to the Vanguard.

          Since 1999, there have been 25 fatal mass school shootings in the U.S.  That is in 19 years.  That is just over one a year.  From a moral standpoint, that number is far too high.  But  the number of deaths in that time is 122 – a high number, but consider too, there are over 70 million children in the U.S. at any one time.
          If we look at this logically, your child is far more likely to be killed or critically wounded in a vehicle accident on the way to school than to be involved in, let alone killed or critically wounded in, a mass shooting at school.

        2. Howard P

          I still have some unanswered questions (earlier post), and I fully understand agree with,

          This was students honoring their fellow students and bringing attention to the national failure to take steps to adequately address school safety.

          However, from a previous thread,

          he (Bowes).made it clear that “students and our school community received clear communications from my office and from our site leaders consistent with the guidance provided … that students who leave class to participate in protests or other unauthorized reasons would be considered ‘unexcused.

          So, the students involved were not prevented from leaving class to participate in the observance, yet with the knowledge of the consequences for such a decision.

          Freedom of speech has been found to be subject to time, place, manner.


        3. Eric Gelber

          Liberals … downplay the number of shootings when it comes to adding more security at schools.

          As I said, there are varying views on how best to accomplish this. Because someone opposes a particular proposal—e,g,, arming teachers, or putting metal detectors in elementary schools—doesn’t mean one opposes taking meaningful steps to enhance school security.

        4. Ken A

          Every “month” more people are shot in bad parts of most big cities than have been shot at in schools over the past “decade” and every few months well over 100 people are shot and KILLED just Chicago.  The NRA and most right of center politicians support “use a gun in a crime and go to jail for life” laws  but for some strange most left of center politicians oppose these lawn despite the fact that most of the people that use guns in crimes get back out and shoot and kill mostly left of center voters.

          1. David Greenwald

            In California, Penal Code 12022.53 PC adds to a felony sentence:

            10 years in prison for “using” a gun,
            20 years for firing a gun, or
            25 years to life for killing or seriously injuring another person with a gun.

          2. David Greenwald

            “most of the people that use guns in crimes get back out and shoot and kill mostly left of center voters.”

            Also I don’t know about other states, but if you shoot and kill or even just wound someone in California, you’re in prison for life. You may have a chance at parole at some point, but it is a life sentence.

    2. Ken A

      When I was a kid you could buy a 15, 20 or 25 round magazine for a Ruger 10/22 at every California Oshman’s or Big 5.  Today (despite the second amendment) you can’t buy them in California (or legally bring then in to the other 49 states where you can still legally buy them).  As of recently legal adults can’t buy long guns at Dick’s or Wal Mart (Did I miss the section of the second amendment that said you need to reload when shooting more than 10 cans or that it only applied to Americans over 21)?

      1. Ron

        I still don’t know why there seems to be more mass shootings, these days.  I believe we’ve had access to semi-automatic weapons (and disgruntled, mentally ill people) for years.

        Wondering what changed.

        Still, the risk for any individual appears to be exceedingly low. When the media relentlessly reports it, there’s a lack of perspective regarding the relative risks.

  4. Keith O

    Teacher place on administrative leave for discussing the merits of the 17 minute walkout in her class.

    As thousands of students across the country walked out of class demanding strict gun laws, in honor of the Parkland shooting victims, Benzel was placed on paid administrative leave when she asked students to consider whether there’s a double standard in the national school walkout.
    “I would like a conversation about when is too much? And are we going allow this on the other side?” said Julianne Benzel

    Now students plan walkout over abortion:

    This week, Rocklin High School students are using social media to organize a pro-life walkout using the hashtag #life.
    “To honor all the lives of aborted babies pretty much. All the millions of aborted babies every year,” said organizer Brandon Gillespie.

    Here we go, the slippery slope.  The principal wants to sit down with the organizer of the abortion walkout.  Did he sit down with the organizers of the 17 minute walkout?

    The principal at Rocklin High declined to meet with us for an on-camera interview, but a district spokeswoman tells us, he does plan to sit down with the student about the possible abortion walkout, and that’s not going over well with some of his peers.

    “If high schools or public schools are going to be places of civic activism, I could not be a better proponent for it. But it has to be afforded to any student to protest anything,” she said.
    It’s that opinion that got Benzel in trouble, last Wednesday, the day of the national school walkout against gun violence

    The old double standard.  It’s looking like the 17 minute Parkland walkout was just the start.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
Sign up for