A month after 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students in Central Massachusetts plan to walk out of classes Wednesday morning to remember the victims and, in some cases, protest the country's gun laws.
In several districts, students' participation in the walkouts won't result in punishment, although some school officials are setting basic rules for them to follow.
According to the website for the Women’s March, which has become the central organizing body for the national walkout movement, as well as various social media sites, walkouts are planned in Central Massachusetts at Algonquin Regional High School, Burncoat High School in Worcester, Fitchburg High School, Grafton High School, Nashoba Regional High School, Northboro High School, Shrewsbury High School, Sutton High School, Quabbin Regional High School, and Wachusett Regional High School.
In addition, the Worcester school system plans to organize a walkout that day at all of its high schools, although the event is aimed at honoring the victims of last month’s shooting, not at pushing for tougher gun laws like many student walkouts are.
In general, the walkouts are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and last 17 minutes, in recognition of each of the students and staff killed in the Feb. 14 Parkland massacre. Some walkout participants will wear orange, the color associated with National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
In some cases, students planning walkouts have received approval from their school’s administration. At Wachusett, for instance, Principal William Beando said some students met with him to outline their plans. "We felt it was something as a school we could get behind," he said.
Consequently, the school moved its "activity period" to earlier in the day to coincide with the walkout. If students participate in the protest, Mr. Beando said, "it’s a no harm, no foul type of situation" from the administration’s perspective.
There are conditions, however, including that students must behave appropriately during the walkout. Mr. Beando also said the walkout plans the students described to him did not have a heavy emphasis on gun control.
"I don’t know if it would be problematic" if the walkout did end up having a strong slant on gun laws, he said. "I just don’t think that’s the message we discussed."
At Fitchburg High, Principal Jeremy Roche said the students planning his school’s walkout also described an event focused more on commemorating the dead than political action. But if Wednesday’s walkout does get into the latter, he said he "honestly would not" be upset.
"It’s really the students who are going to run this," he said. "And if we’re teaching students how to be civically engaged in ways that move the levers of government, they’re going to have to use forums like this to get their message across."
In general, Mr. Roche added, his administration is fully supportive of the event, and won't punish participating students. "We feel a lot of the same feelings (the students) feel," he said.
Some schools are even using the walkouts to create an expanded curriculum around the event’s themes. At Algonquin, for instance, where the school administration is asking students to sign up beforehand to participate in the scheduled walkout on Wednesday and discouraging cellphone recordings during the event, the school is also offering follow-up activities students can choose to take part in afterwards, including a voter registration program, a letter writing/petition workshop, and a guest speaking engagement by state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, according to a letter the high school recently sent to families.
The Women’s March website struck a more defiant tone. Many of the local walkouts listed on it carry the movement’s slogan, "#enough," in reference to the spate of mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years.
"We need action," says a template message on individual school walkout pages on the site. "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."
In Quabbin, meanwhile, some students are not happy with the way they see their school co-opting Wednesday’s walkout.
"The Quabbin administration has taken the ‘disobedience’ out of ‘civil disobedience.’ They've legitimized the pro-gun movement and destroyed the true meaning of the walk out. We will not be silenced," a group posted on the event page for Quabbin’s walkout on Facebook.
The students said they would stand outside an additional 17 minutes on Wednesday in protest.