Students Walkout On Gun Violence

spring sports VERMONT - In the wake of shootings across the country, most recently the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students organized national school walkouts to protest for stronger gun control. On March 14th, starting at 10 o'clock students across the country walked out of class. The walkout was to last for 17 minutes to honor the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Schools reacted differently to planned walkouts across the country. Some students were able to walk out of class without consequence, while other schools had forbidden students from participating in the walkout.

 Former Vermont Education Secretary, Rebecca Holcombe, wrote a memo to school leaders across the state about the planned student walkouts. Holcombe started by praising the activism of students and their right to free speech, but went on to discourage students from participating.

Citing safety concerns, Holcombe said, "The right to free speech doesn't extend to disrupting classes (which prevents others from learning), nor to leaving school without permission (which creates a safety risk)."

Holcombe went on to suggest holding a schoolwide assembly or brining students to work with legislators at the State House in Montpelier. "We are in an extraordinary moment of history and more than ever our children need the skills of citizenship, so they can lead strong communities for the next generation," said Holcombe. "However, this also means teaching them to do so in ways that are not disruptive to the rights of others."

Law requires students to attend school and administrators can take action for a student missing school. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, schools can't punish a student more severely for missing class to participate in a political protest.
"Any student who plans to participate in the walkout will be marked unexcused absent from their class during that time," said Twiladawn Perry, Head of School at Lyndon Institute.

Like many schools across the state Lyndon Institute works to teach their students the importance of civil disobedience. "We help our students to understand that civil disobedience has played a significant role in many social reforms including the abolition of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and Women's Suffrage Movement," said Perry. She went on to say, "We have and we will continue to work with our students to ensure we understand their interests and perspectives any time they may be considering an act of civil disobedience."

One Vermont student, Liam Manion of Rice Memorial High School, felt impassioned by call for a student walkout. "As students we were appalled at the continuous lack of change in not only Washington, but also in our home state. We agreed with the statement the walkout stood for and desired the changes demanded as part of it," said Manion.

According to Manion, instead of participating in the student walkout the administration at Rice Memorial High School offered an alternative prayer session. Manion said, "This angered much of the student body because as an educational institution, Rice has taught us the power of civil disobedience and the capacity to bring positive change."

"We're not doing it because we think it abides by the rules, we're doing it to show our dissatisfaction with the status quo and our desire for change," said Manion. "By walking out of class we're saying to the legislature: we don't feel safe in our schools and you need to reform gun laws."

Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the national student walkout, the Vermont legislature has passed three new gun control laws. Vermont's Republican Governor, Phil Scott, signed into law S. 55, S. 221, and H. 422.

With S. 55, the legal age to buy a weapon is raised to 21, it bans bump stocks, requires a background check for all firearm sales, and eliminates high capacity magazines. S. 221 allows a judge to remove guns from someone considered to be an imminent threat to themselves or others. Lastly, H. 422 gives police the authority to remove firearms from people cited for domestic violence.

Vermont is only one of a few states to take action on gun control following the school shooting in Florida. Governor Scott ordered a statewide inspection of all schools to evaluate how to improve school security.