The school district’s policy prevented students from participating in a walkout
Yesterday’s #NationalWalkoutDay brought thousands of student activists together across the country to demand change when it comes to our country’s existing gun laws. Each participating school had their own way of protesting, and Booker T. Washington High school in Atlanta was no different.
Rather than walk out of school, hundreds of participating students instead gathered in the hallways to take a knee for a 17 minute-long demonstration. A walkout is technically against school policy, according to a statement from the district superintendent.
Approximately 600 students at Booker T. Washington High School participated in the student-led demonstration where they kneeled and bowed their heads.
“Our students were allowed to develop their own plans for their protest and this was how students at Booker T. Washington wanted to express themselves,” Latisha Gray, Communications Director for Atlanta Public Schools, tells Scary Mommy.
Students at @APSWashington planned a silent protest by taking a knee and bowing in the hallways to honor 17 victims in Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. #NationalWalkOutDay pic.twitter.com/1oP6I2uqmU
— Latisha Gray, APR (@latishabgray) March 14, 2018
The school itself was placed on a “soft lockdown” that prevented visitors and others from entering the school during the protest.
While the district was certainly proactive in finding ways for students to protest and encouraged students to participate in civil discourse, the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools Dr. Meria Carstarphen, made it clear in an official blog post that “disruptive” walkouts are against district policy and would result in disciplinary consequences.
— News & Talk WAOK (@WAOK) March 14, 2018
“It is also important for students to remember that disruptive ‘walkouts’ are against district policy, and any student led demonstrations that have not received prior approval will result in disciplinary consequences,” the Superintendent wrote. “Said simply, while we support peaceful organized protesting that is school sanctioned (with prior approval), we do not support disruption of school or obstruction of the school district’s mission, process or function as explained in board policy.”
The photos of kneeling students do paint a powerful picture of protest, to be sure.
“To support student engagement around a national dialogue on National School Walkout Day, our schools will work with our students on these issues and work with student leaders to develop a structured plan that will be implemented during that 17-minute timeframe,” Dr. Carstarphen said prior to the event.
Other schools in the district also observed the day by engaging in district-approved gatherings on school grounds.
“We had 24 schools and approximately over 16,000 students participate in student-led demonstrations,” Gray says.
Today was an outstanding display of student leadership, civic engagement, and unity! So proud of our MJJ Family for planning & executing a powerful #NationalSchoolWalkout @dan_a_sims @IsparksJr @CarstarphenMJ @Atldepsupt @apsupdate @mjjptsa pic.twitter.com/q9qWs4rANH
— MHJHS: Adam Danser (@APSMHJHSJaguars) March 14, 2018
— Clara Green (@ClaraGreenSEL) March 14, 2018
Atlanta Public Schools isn’t the only district that made it clear students who engaged in non-approved walkouts on #NationalWalkoutDay would be met with consequences. Schools are technically allowed to enforce punishments on students who choose to participate against school policy, but unless a walkout turned disruptive, students can’t be prevented from participating.
While it’s unfortunate a walkout may have been met with disciplinary action for these kids, students at Booker T. Washington and other Atlanta secondary schools were encouraged by school officials to organize student-led demonstrations in solidarity with other participating schools nationwide. These student activists deserve just as much praise as any others for their passion and positive activism.
“Our Teaching & Learning team prepared age-appropriate, recommended instructional activities that teachers could use to facilitate a conversation around civic engagement and social responsibility,” Gray says. “Ultimately, all of this is helping our students develop social and emotional learning skills and helping them become informed citizens in our democracy.”