A nationwide protest is set to take place in schools across the country on Wednesday, March 14 with students planning to walk out of class for 17 minutes. The National School Walkout protest is in response to the latest mass shooting in the United States, in which Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Cruz had formerly been a student at the school.
Young people, especially high school students, have been particularly adamant about demanding Congress step up and do something to stop the gun violence. Here's what you need to know about the #National School Walkout
The effort is a protest organized by EMPOWER, that calls out the inaction Congress has shown thus far in making steps to prevent mass shootings. Organizers are calling on students as well as teachers and staff to leave their classrooms on March 14 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes - one minute for each victim of the Parkland shooting.
An estimated 2,500 walkouts are expected to take place at schools across the country. “I just think it’s so important in this time because we really have such a big and important stage to have our voices heard,” said Aidan Murphy, a junior who is organizing the walkout at his high school in Quincy, Massachusetts.
According to EMPOWER organizers, the purpose of the walkout can be broken down into three distinct demands for Congress to act upon:
Require universal background checks for gun sales, ban assault weapons, and put into place a law that would allow courts to disarm people who displayed warning signs of violent behavior.
Students have been working to spread the word about the walkout through social media with the hashtag #NationalSchoolWalkout. In addition to social media, some 7,000 pairs of shoes near the U.S. Capital to mark the 7,000 children who have been killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 20 Kindergartners and first-graders were killed.
How each school chooses to address their students walking out in protest is, of course, up to the school, though the American Civil Liberties Union is encouraging school officials to work with students rather than punish them. Many schools are honoring their students' First Amendment rights and providing a safe means to support them.
For example, the football scoreboard at Corvallis High School in Corvallis, Oregon will countdown the 17 minutes as organizers go over 17 action points for the protest.
Safety remains the top priority for schools with administrators taking the necessary precautions to make sure the walkout is handled in a safe manner. “The first goal for the system is the safety of students participating and those electing not to participate in activities on March 14," said Tim Hensley, a spokesperson for the Hamilton County Department of Education in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "As a district, we are not endorsing a walkout, but we do recognize our student’s constitutional right to express themselves.”
Parents of students of the Harford County School District in Maryland were sent a letter last week informing them that the schools would not condone the behavior of the student protest. The Washoe County School District in Nevada expressed similar views towards the protest and informed parents that students who walked out would be "marked tardy or absent."
While the National School Walkout may be led primarily by students, it's only the beginning. Thousands are expected to march in Washington and in cities across the U.S. on March 24 as part of the March For Our Lives protest, as well show an observance on April 20 for 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.