Students across the nation are planning to exercise their freedom of speech in the coming months.
Prince William County Public Schools’ (PWCS) Superintendent Steve Walts is asking students to do it safely.
On Thursday, the school system sent out a message from Walts that reminded students that they have a right to voice their opposition to school gun violence.
“Parkland, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and all the others were sickening. If you’re passionate about stopping school shootings and saving lives, take action,” Walts wrote in the Thursday email. “Work with your friends. Join in safe, well-organized demonstrations.”
The email followed an message sent out on Wednesday. In the Wednesday email, parents and students were asked to keep safety and “educational effectiveness” in mind when expressing their opinions.
Both emails served as PWCS’ response to protests that have been planned.
The Women’s March has organized a National School Walkout that will be held at 10 a.m. on March 14. The purpose of the 17-minute walkout is to protest Congress’ alleged “inaction” against gun violence.
“Students and allies are organizing the national school walkout to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship,” the organization stated on its website.
Many students, Walts wrote in the Wednesday email, are choosing to take action by “calling for safety-related legislation.”
“This is your right and your responsibility,” Walts wrote. “But please be sure that your actions do not compromise your safety or the educational effectiveness of our schools.”
Walts asked students to be respectful of others by not disrupting classes or leaving school without permission.
“Students who cause disruptions or leave school without authorization will face disciplinary consequences, in keeping with the PWCS Code of Behavior,” he wrote.
In Thursday’s email, Walts explained why it’s important that students don’t interrupt class or leave school “at will.”
“PWCS is responsible for the safety and the education of 90,000 students. How can we keep you safe if you can freely leave school any time to participate in protests on campus or off?” Walts wrote. “It’s unlikely, but you could become somebody’s target, or be involved in an accident. And how can we give you a good education if classes can be constantly disrupted by students walking out to protest? We do have to enforce our normal school rules, even as we allow for some flexibility.”
The division’s employees can’t organize student protests, Walts explained. However, they can facilitate supervised forms of activism.
According to Walts, PWCS plans to offer an opportunity for students to participate in “a show of solidarity” on April 20, the Columbine shootings anniversary.
“We are working to find appropriate ways to allow students who wish to participate to do so safely, without forcing the involvement of others, violating PWCS rules, or disrupting teaching and learning,” Walts wrote in the Wednesday email.
The school system will share information about its plans for the anniversary as it becomes available.
Walts concluded his Thursday email by reminding students that they have a reason to “demand safe schools” and that their safety is a priority.
“No one wants you to succeed more than I do,” Walts wrote. “I just want to make sure you’re safe, and still getting a good education while you try to tell the world about the need to prevent school shootings.”
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