Students Lead the Way

Loudoun Valley High School walked out on March 14, 2018

Loudoun Valley High School walked out on March 14, 2018

Thousands of students from across Loudoun County walked out of class for 17 minutes, a minute of silent remembrance for each of the 17 students and staff killed in a Parkland, Florida High School, by an AR 15 wielded by 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz.

The students also assembled to protest automatic and semi-automatic weapons that, according to an organizer at the Seneca Ridge Middle School walkout, Lane Thimmesch, have no practical use, and can only be used to hunt people.

The students in Loudoun County joined a massive national protest, from New York to Seattle, and many small towns and communities in between, on March 14, 2017, one month after the Florida shooting.

The demonstrators permitted to speak or carry a sign said that they’d had “enough” of “hope and prayers” and wanted “action,” demanding that elected officials protect them from gunfire and death.

In Loudoun County, among the published Student’s Rights and Responsibilities, students have a right to “freedom of expression” through “speech, peaceful assembly, petition, and other lawful means provided such expression does not cause substantial disruption …”

Ironically, we instruct our students that the “Boston Tea Party,” throwing 342 chests of British East India Company tea into the harbor waters, that “cursed weed,” was a righteous protest.

Now that’s what we might call “disruption” that was “substantial.”

We require our students to read Henry David Thoreau who declared that non-cooperation with evil is a moral obligation.  A legislative protocol that fails to protect students from gun violence for questionable policy reasons could fairly be considered “evil.”

The ACLU confessed to Loudoun School Superintendent Eric Williams that they were greatly disappointed that the County failed “to support the efforts of their [County] students who [chose] to participate in this historic student walkout.”

The Loudoun County Public School Administration instead warned Students that they would be disciplined if they participated in the “walkout” and “disrupted” the school day.

Some students argued that the test was “substantial” and the planned walkout was not “disruptive” and not “substantial” by any fair measure.

Among the offenses, according to the County School policy, was any “unauthorized marches or walkouts,” or “leav[ing] class without permission.”

“Administrators” were directed to issue “clear communications” that “students who leave class … will receive the appropriate disciplinary action.”

The County defined “political activities” as “including walkouts” and underscored the fact that “student walkouts are not sanctioned activities” and those who participate “in a walkout or other political activity should be noted …”  School Administrators were to take down the names of “protesters” who “walk out.”

One parent wrote that: “[T]hose [parents] that want ‘discipline’ or ‘consequences’ [for protesting] are missing the point or they just disagree with the student’s position.”

Parents said they were anxious how a son or daughter’s freedom to express a view about the Florida killings might result in a disciplinary action.

One parent said, “I told my son if he walks out during school hours he will lose the car and his phone.  If it means that much to him, then he will walk, and consequences will be issued.”

One parent whose daughter attends Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville said, “I encouraged my child to protest.”

As for the possible sanctions, she said, “The students were allowed to go outside since it was organized as part of ‘Wellness Wednesday.’”

Her daughter said, “’Wellness Wednesday’ is an extended period of time before classes once a month … [A] lot of people go to the auditorium or the cafeteria because there was nothing they wanted to sign up for …[at that time.]”

So, Loudoun Valley pretended the “walkout” was part of “Wellness Wednesday” as a cover story to slip past the sanctions.

Her mother said, “Sadly, that diminished the significance and the reason for the walkout …”

She also objected that, “Punishing the students was simply a way to diminish their [student] voices.”

At Loudoun Valley, parents were not allowed on school grounds to observe the demonstration by their children (pictured above).  Nor was this correspondent (thus, the picture was taken from across the street off school grounds).

The students navigated the County’s obstacles, but especially the varying breadth of their First Amendment exertions depending on how School Administrators interpreted their license to constrain student “speech.”

The students now know their “free speech” is not “free.”

The County shouldn’t be surprised if that’s the next protest.