Thousands of students across the country participated Wednesday in what was billed as the National School Walkout, ditching class to go outside and march — ostensibly in honor of the 17 students and faculty who died during the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school.
The problem is that those marches — many of which were sanctioned by the schools and their administrations — turned out to be less about honoring victims and more about protesting the National Rifle Association, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans as part of a push for stricter gun control laws.
However, The Hill reported on at least one school district in New Jersey which explicitly prohibited their students from taking part in the politicized event, and even announced disciplinary consequences for any students who defied the school’s directive and choose to participate anyway.
The Sayreville Public School District informed students ahead of time that anybody who exited the school without permission would receive a two-day suspension, while any students who left class and remained on campus to gather in the auditorium would receive detention.
According to MyCentralJersey, little more than a dozen students defied the district and risked suspension as they walked out of the school at around 10 a.m., then gathered together for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims.
Several dozen others somewhat acquiesced to the district’s orders and remained on campus to gather together in the auditorium, though they will still face detention for ditching class without an acceptable excuse.
One student, 16-year-old freshman Sierra Thomas, spoke about how she and roughly a dozen others exited the school and attempted to gather on the football field, only to find the gates to the stadium locked. As a result, they breifly milled about the parking lot until the principal herded them back into the school and directed them to sign in at the front desk.
Thomas’ older sister, Stephanie Peters, claimed to have reviewed the school’s code of conduct and determined the students who walked out in defiance of the district were guilty of insubordination, an infraction which merits two days of detention, as well as skipping class, which is punished by Saturday detention.
“So obviously they’re going above and beyond what the actual code of conduct is,” stated Peters, who told her younger sister that she had a right to protest under the First Amendment and that teachers should have used the opportunity as a “teaching moment.”
“I think it’s important that the story is told and that the light is shone on Sayreville and what they are doing,” Peters said, “and that they’re silencing students.”
But Peters seemed to be ignoring the fact that the First Amendment doesn’t grant students the right to skip school and engage in political protests, their voices weren’t “silenced,” and the “teaching moment” did indeed occur by way of the disciplinary actions for disobedience — a lesson these students obviously didn’t want to receive or understand.
The president of the Sayreville Board of Education, Kevin Ciak, declined to comment specifically on the punishments for students, but stated, “Some participated within the building, some left the building but remained on school property and a handful — two or three — actually left school property. We’ll be following our student code of conduct for those categories.”
He noted that since students were informed ahead of time by the principal that they were prohibited from walking out of the building, doing so constituted a failure to follow administrative direction, which merited a suspension.
Ciak added that risk to the students and safety concerns were what prompted the prohibition on participation in the walkout.
“It’s a highly publicized event,” he said. “It’s a highly publicized date and time and anyone who wants to inflict harm knows across the country when these students will be walking out. From a students’ protection standpoint, that’s also why we are taking the action we are and following our student code of conduct.”
Of course, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the district’s punishments as “heavy-handed,” “misguided” and “punitive” — and there is little doubt that other organizations which supported the march, as well as certain liberal media outlets, will be piling on this school district for having the audacity to do the right thing and demand their students remain in class instead of participating in a highly publicized and politicized, yet unsanctioned event.
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