When high school students from Merced to Livingston to Los Banos walk out of their classrooms Wednesday morning at 10 a.m., they will be joining thousands of students coast to coast doing the same. We will be with them – in spirit if not in person.
The survivors of the murderous rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. are taking the lead in one of the most important movements of our time. Their own safety.
We will be with them because we agree with them. Something must be done about the mass shootings that occur all too frequently, usually with weapons designed for mass casualties. We will be with them because we have failed to protect them. As they walk to protect themselves, the least we can do is stand with them.
That’s because the “least” is all we have done in the 29 years since Stockton’s Cleveland School shootings killed five and wounded 32; in the 19 years since 13 died at Columbine; in the six years since the lives of 20 precious 6- and 7-year-olds were snuffed out in Newtown, Conn.
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We will be with them, but so will an enormous number of teachers – even if they’ve been ordered to remain in their classrooms. It isn’t only students dying in those schools. Five teachers died at Sandy Hook, one teacher fell at Columbine, another was among the 10 dead at Red Lake, Minn.; three more at Parkland. Every teacher fears he or she will be called upon to act as a human shield if their classroom is attacked.
We will be with those students even if some school administrators are taking a more intimidating tone.
Like most parents and teachers, we have no patience for students who will treat this as an all-day hall pass. But we have even less regard for those adults who don’t see the value and validity of this moment. Those who do, will be appreciated by their students now and in years to come.
In a letter to parents, Merced Union High School District superintendent Alan Peterson set exactly the right tone.
“We respect and support the right of our students to advocate for causes that are important to them and welcome the opportunity to work with any student or student group to discuss appropriate and creative ways to do so while at school,” he wrote.
That echoes the words of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who asked California public schools to stop trying to control how students respond to the constant threat of gun violence in their classrooms. “The adults in charge of Congress have failed our children for long enough,” he wrote in a letter to California’s 58 county superintendents. “Let’s not fail them again by suppressing their voices at this critical juncture in history.”
But Peterson went to an even better place: “I encourage you to talk to your child(ren) about how they may feel about recent events...”
This stood in sharp contrast to schools in South Dakota, Arizona and Texas that have already dealt harshly with protesting students. Anticipating resistance in such deeply red states, the ACLU has signaled it will defend those who follow their consciences out the classroom doors. That shouldn’t be necessary.
The most important “learning environment” anywhere in America on March 14 will be among those students willing to consider – for 17 meaningful minutes – the unthinkable. These students are attempting to shape a better future, exercising the rights guaranteed to America’s citizens to peaceably assemble and speak their minds. They don’t claim to have all the answers, but at least they are searching for them.
If we can’t join them on the walk outside their classrooms, we must join them in that search.