Student walkouts: Alternatives and response to questions

February 27, 2018 ACSA Writer

ACSA is teaming up with education advocates and thought leaders to provide you with first-hand expertise on student protests and walkouts. The following content has been provided by the Riverside County Office of Education and includes updates on what we know about proposed walkouts, talking points on proposed alternatives, and a focus on safety while honoring our empowered student voices. With thanks to the Alameda and San Diego County Offices of Education colleagues whose communications in the last week have provided shared messaging to help lead discussions on this important topic in our schools, districts, county, and country.

What is being planned, as of February 26, 2018:

  • Enough: National School Walkout on Wednesday, March 14 (one month anniversary of Parkland event) – Organizers of the popular Women’s March are calling for students to walk out of school for 17 minutes to protest the response of inaction and frustration with nothing beyond tweets of thoughts and prayers. There is a zip code look-up on the site to locate the nearest protest—many of which are during the school day. Several areas in Riverside County already have registered events (Corona, San Jacinto, Riverside, Moreno Valley, Menifee) either at schools or in the community. More are likely to be registered to drive participation as it nears.
  • March For Our Lives on Saturday, March 24 – Largely focused in Washington D.C., this march was initiated by the Parkland survivors and has financial and personal backing from Oprah, Steven Spielberg, and more. Stated purpose is to demand that student lives and safety become a priority to end the epidemic of mass school shootings. Palm Springs High School stadium is currently listed as the only local site for participation, but others are likely.
  • National School Walkout Day on Friday, April 20, 19th Anniversary of Columbine – Powered by, students are encouraged to make their voices heard, walk out of school at 10 a.m., wear orange, and protest online and in the community. This day has historically elicited copycat threats to the Columbine incident.
  • Spontaneous and/or locally-organized protests by students on individual campuses are just as likely at any time.

Response and alternatives to proposed walkouts

As educators, we know that oftentimes the lessons and conversations with the greatest impact on students do not emanate from textbooks or lesson plans. This moment in time is an opportunity for us to provide guidance to students on how they can be civically engaged and politically aware in a safe and constructive way.

We can’t say that we care about students unless we recognize what they care about and why it’s important to them. Seeking opportunities to listen and understand with respect and empathy while helping students develop their voice should be as prominent as any directive discouraging walkouts.

You know your community best, so adjust your approach based on what is best for your community. Here are some general considerations:

  • Review your board policies and district procedures related to students’ rights to free expression/speech and be prepared to reference those when communicating with students, staff, parents, and the community.
  • Communication of board policies and school rules related to walkouts should not be communicated in isolation without proposing alternatives to help students cope with violence, death, and mental illness.
  • Maintain dialogue with teachers and classified staff and encourage healthy listen-first dialogue with students while using discretion when voicing their own opinions on the issue.
  • Encourage students to take advantage of counseling staff and other on-campus staff-student interaction points as opportunities to make connections between themselves and others to cope with difficult issues in a safe environment. Consider developing additional options for students in this arena to increase dialogue on a topic where amplifying student voices has become a driving force.
  • Identify walkout leaders and initiate dialogue to work together on a shared approach that is least disruptive to the educational process while not silencing the passionate voices anxious to be heard.
  • Invite community and law enforcement members to support your dialogue efforts and walkout alternatives with a tone that values a spirit of peace, harmony, and our shared humanity.
  • Propose alternatives to walkouts before/after school, during lunch time, or during a planned forum at the precise times when walkouts are being planned.

If a walkout appears imminent

  • Offer students a safe place on your campus such as athletic fields or courtyard areas to conduct their event.
  • Suggest students march after school and work with law enforcement to identify a route and appropriate conduct during the march. In this conversation, 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.
  • On-campus: Administrators or staff members should accompany students and supervise them while remaining in contact with district administration and local law enforcement, if needed.
  • Off-campus: Discuss with legal counsel supervision responsibilities when students leave campus.
  • Consider pre-assigning staff from other campuses and/or the district office to be available at school sites.
  • Consider how an alternative bell schedule for the day may accommodate a planned break at the time of day the walkout is planned.
  • 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. violence, vandalism, etc.).
  • Keep your students with special needs in consideration to help them feel safe and part of the process, if they choose.
  • Recognize situations where students may be pressured or bullied to go along with the protest. All students have a right to an education during all hours they are at school.

Response to questions about school safety

If we believe our mission of student achievement and college and career readiness as our day-to-day goal, we then have the responsibility to ensure that we are doing everything in our power today to make sure students safely reach that brighter future of tomorrow.

Here are some practical ways to communicate a focus on safety at our schools:

  • Provide students and staff with facts that better understand what IS being done to continually ensure safety. List the safety measures that are in place today, and what is being done to further strengthen security in light of recent incidents.
  • Invite dialogue from students, staff, and parents to share concerns related to safety so they are sharing any perceived vulnerabilities and contributing to shared ownership of protecting the community together.
  • Consider adding safety-related topics to agendas at meetings and gatherings to listen to concerns of parents, students, and staff, which will also provide a forum for communicating what is being done and potentially reveal any vulnerabilities.
  • Review, revise, and practice emergency procedures—up to, and including, drills with local law enforcement partners. Be sure to over-communicate and pre-communicate the timing of the drill to prevent confusion with any actual incident.

You can read more about school safety and school climate topics here. ACSA is dedicated to providing K-12 administrators with relevant content and building events that focus on today’s most important school administration issues. Become a member and join us for our world-class Leadership Summit, Every Child Counts Symposium, and other conferences, as well as professional development events, a free one-on-one mentorship program, our ongoing Equity Project and statewide advocacy efforts, members-only benefits, and much more.

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