Pockets of students in Loudoun’s public schools are planning school walkouts to protest gun violence, following the Feb. 14 shooting in a Florida high school.
Loudoun students have posted on social media a couple of different dates when walkouts are planned, including one at Seneca Ridge Middle School on March 14. That is the same day Women’s March organizers have urged students and educators to walk out of schools across the nation to protest gun violence. Another walkout is slated for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting in Colorado.
Loudoun school leaders are urging students who choose to participate in the protests to use caution and know their rights and responsibilities. School system administration sent an email to parents and employees about the planned walkouts.
The email states that the school system does not support walkouts or other activities that interrupt instruction or threaten student safety. Students who leave class without permission, disrupt school activities, or otherwise disregard the code of conduct will be disciplined. It does not specify what disciplinary action will be taken, but says that consequences will depend on the context of the situation and a student’s behavior.
“While students have the right to freedom of expression, they do not have the right to disrupt instruction or create an unsafe environment,” the email states.
It says that principals are working with staff members and students to provide opportunities for students to express diverse and opposing opinions in a manner that does not disrupt learning. The email also quotes school system policy outlining students’ rights and responsibilities. It states that students may exercise their right to freedom of expression through speech, peaceful assembly or other lawful means, and that principals may provide reasonable times and appropriate places for students to exercise this right.
It continues, “However, the exercise of this right may be revoked whenever it becomes disruptive to the school program or interferes with the rights of other students to pursue their studies or activities or to express their ideas, or reasonably leads the principal to forecast disruption or interference.”
Hundreds of students walked out of Loudoun high schools in February 2017 in protest to the president’s executive order barring refugees and citizens from the seven Muslim-majority countries.