WASHINGTON - As students have reacted to the horrific mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and staged protests and demonstrations against gun violence, a school walkout is planned across the country on Wednesday.
It's the first large-scale, coordinated national demonstration, and is being led by the organizers of the Women's March movement. Students are planning to hold a 17-minute walkout, with one minute for each of the 17 students and staff members killed Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
Schools in the D.C. area are bracing for the student walkouts and are now facing the question of how to let thousands of students exercise their First Amendment rights while not disrupting classes.
Some school districts have taken a hard line that if a student leaves school grounds and not return, they will receive an unexcused absence or face disciplinary action. Some are using a softer approach by working with students to set up places on campus where they can make their statement.
Matthew Post, the student member of Montgomery County’s Board of Education and a senior at Sherwood High School, said school officials are trying to negotiate with students to stay on campus.
"Just last week, the Board of Education passed a strong resolution affirming our support for students getting involved in the democratic process and demonstrating peacefully," Post said. "When students come to school, we have an obligation to keep them safe. It becomes a little bit more difficult when students want to march or protest off campus because we can’t totally guarantee their safety."
In Prince George's County, Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell has requested schools to provide a safe outlet for student expression on school grounds.
In Fairfax County, the school district is neither endorsing nor opposing the student walkout and principals have been directed to work with students to find safe ways to "facilitate the observance by students who choose to do so, while minimizing the disruption to the instruction day."
In Prince William County, students will be allowed to do an on-campus walkout, but they will not be marked absent or tardy. Teachers are also being asked not to schedule tests during the demonstration.