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Schools brace for massive student walkouts over gun violence

Issued: 2018-03-11

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- As schools around the country brace for student walkouts following the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, principals and superintendents are scrambling to perform a delicate balancing act: How to let thousands of students exercise their First Amendment rights while not disrupting school and not pulling administrators into the raging debate over gun control.

Some have taken a hard line, promising to suspend students who walk out, while others are using a softer approach, working with students to set up places on campus where they can remember the victims of the Florida shooting and express their views about school safety and gun control.

Since the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, demonstrations have sprung up on school campuses around the country. But the first large-scale, coordinated national demonstration is planned for March 14, when organizers of the Women's March have called for a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the 17 students and staff members killed in Florida.

National demonstrations are also planned for March 24, with a march on Washington, D.C.; and on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.

No matter how schools decide to deal with the demonstrations, students have been reassured by Harvard, Yale, MIT, the University of Connecticut, UCLA and dozens of other colleges and universities that their participation won't affect their chances of getting admitted.

But for middle-school and high-school administrators, figuring out how to allow the demonstrations during school hours has proven challenging. In some cases, it hasn't gone smoothly.

In Needville, Texas, near Houston, Superintendent Curtis Rhodes was castigated on social media after he warned that students who leave class would be suspended for three days, even if they get parental permission.

"SHAME, SHAME, SHAME ON YOU," wrote one woman.

In Garretson, South Dakota, administrators canceled a student walkout planned for April 20 after a Facebook posting about the plan drew more than 300 negative comments from adults.

And in Arizona, dozens of students at Ingleside Middle School, near Phoenix, were given one-day suspensions after they left campus on Feb. 27.

Layla Defibaugh, an eighth-grade student at Ingleside, said she wanted to participate in the walkout, but didn't because of the threatened suspensions. She does plan to join the March 14 walkout, even it means getting suspended.

"It's important for me to speak my mind on this topic," she said. "At the end of the day, they shouldn't be able to punish us for exercising our First Amendment rights."


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