Student walkout messaging points

February 28, 2018 ACSA Writer

ACSA is dedicated to providing administrators with expertise and content on the most relevant issues in the world of education, including student protests and school walkouts. The following content has been assembled by the Alameda County Office of Education. You can download or read the full version here.

Thank you to Fremont and SDCOE, who have already done some great work here providing message points for us all to share. We have attempted to pull together suggested message points from a variety of resources, in addition to responding to some of the issues posed in our meeting to provide a comprehensive source of communications options.

It is helpful at this point to look up your own district’s Board Policies on students rights’ to free expression/speech and to be prepared to refer to those as appropriate when communicating with your community.

Superintendents, district leaders, and community

Potential messaging

In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, parents, activists, and others have taken to social media to call for students and educators to participate in one or more school walkouts. Organizers say the walkouts are in protest of the lack of federal legislation to keep schools and communities safe from gun violence.

The Women's March organizers are encouraging "students, teachers and their allies to walk out of schools on March 14 to protest gun violence." Survivors of the Parkland shooting announced a March for Our Lives event planned for March 24. Another walkout is planned for April 20, which will mark the 19th year since the tragedy at Columbine High School.

It is also possible that our students will be participating in these events. It is also possible that spontaneous walkouts may occur as the local and national conversations evolve on this issue.

Our students have a powerful voice that can effect change, and it is our duty as educators to support our students as they grapple with violence, death, and mental illness. This is an opportunity for us to provide guidance on how students can be civically engaged and politically aware through an educational lens. We plan to communicate with student leaders to ensure that both students’ First Amendment rights and safety are given highest priorities. We want to show our students that they do have a role to play in our democratic process and that their voices matter - so long as they do so in a safe and constructive way.

School, district leaders

Messaging points to school, district leaders

You know your community best, so use discretion when making decisions about your messages for each audience. Your school districts/school boards may have different philosophies on student walkouts and whether they are being encouraged, supported or discouraged. That will be your determination to make and to message accordingly. Some of these message points may or may not apply depending on how you are planning to approach this as a district.

  • We understand that some students may have raw feelings, strong emotions, and questions about the recent school shooting in Florida.
  • We encourage students to return to school, where our teaching and support staff members are working to empower young people to think about difficult issues, make connections between others and themselves, build a compassionate and ethical society, and uphold democracy.
  • Our school is a safe place for students to discuss their opinions and seek support for their emotions
  • Establish an atmosphere of respect and empathy.
  • Connect with student leaders and teachers who have strong student relationships to assist in convening a school forum to express concerns or talk about ideas, goals, and plans.
  • Encourage students to remain on campus for the forum instead of walking out. Participation in the forum allows all voices to be heard and still sends a clear message about students' concerns.
  • Invite community and law enforcement members to support your dialogue efforts.
  • Encourage students to meet at lunch or after school to discuss the issue.
  • Encourage teachers to include discussions in class as appropriate to the subject; remind them to use discretion when voicing their opinion on this issue.
  • If preferred by your district, suggest students march after school and work with law enforcement to identify a route and appropriate conduct during the march and help students understand that the real impact of a school-time walkout is lost classroom time as well as a loss for campus programs that depend on an expected level of attendance funds.

Site/district leadership considerations for students protest/demonstrations

  • Administrators or staff members should accompany them and supervise them and remain in contact with district administration and local law enforcement if needed
  • Offer students a safe place on your campus such as athletic friends or courtyard areas to conduct their event
  • Consider how your bell schedule might accommodate a planned break at that time of day
  • Remind students that they will be responsible for any classwork missed during demonstrations
  • Refrain from automatically issuing disciplinary consequences for leaving class for peaceful protest alone, unless there are clear Ed Code violations for other behaviors that take place during the demonstration (e.g. vandalism, violence, etc.)
  • Plan ahead by designating staff to supervise protesting students as well as staff who will continue instruction for those students who choose not to participate. No student should be pressured to go along with the protest. They have a right to an education during all hours they are at school. An adult must be present in any classroom with students.
  • Keep your students with special needs in consideration to help them feel safe and part of the process if they choose.
  • Senior management and directors can make themselves available to come to sites to help.

For teachers

Instructional guidelines

If educators plan to address the topics of gun violence or school shootings in their lessons:

  • A good approach to discussions is to pose open-ended questions that allow a variety of voices to be heard--consider establishing norms or ground rules to keep class discussions respectful
  • Content must be age-appropriate (not extremely graphic or disturbing to young audiences)
  • The lesson should be connected in some way to the subject-area standards of the class (e.g., math, PE, science, etc.)
  • Materials provided should be fact-based and/or balanced with opposing viewpoints
  • Adults should avoid making statements that could be construed as attempting to persuade students to adopt their own [educators’] personal political views
  • Keep an eye out for students who become upset and/or distraught and provide appropriate support

Questions left to be answered

These questions came up as part of our meeting dialogue and have been forwarded to Fagen, Friedman and Fulfrost, who is preparing a legal advisory to answer these and some other pertinent questions. I expect to see that early next week and will forward it along to all. I just wanted to make sure they had been recorded.

  • Can staff accompany students if they leave campus to demonstrate?
  • Is it appropriate to connect with student leadership to discuss plans for a “walkout”?
  • What if teachers walk out as well?
  • Are teachers required to stay behind to provide educational minutes to those who choose not to participate?
  • Can we make this a District-wide event?
  • How much information should be put out to community with specifics regarding active shooter drills, safety precautions already in place and the like?
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