When high school students from Modesto to Merced to Oakdale to Patterson walk out of their classrooms Wednesday morning at 10, they will be joining thousands of students coast to coast doing the same. We will be with them – in spirit if not in person.
The survivors of the murderous rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., are taking the lead in one of the most important movements of our time. Their own safety.
We will be with them because we agree with them. Something must be done about the mass shootings that occur all too frequently, usually with weapons designed for mass casualties. We will be with them because we have failed to protect them. Now that they’re walking to protect themselves, this is the least we can do.
And the “least” is all we have done in the 29 years since Stockton’s Cleveland School shootings killed five and wounded 32; in the 19 years since 13 died at Columbine; in the six years since the lives of 20 precious 6- and 7-year-olds were snuffed out in Newtown, Conn.
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We will be with them, but so will an enormous number of teachers – even if they’ve been ordered to remain in their classrooms. It isn’t only students dying in those schools. Five of the Sandy Hook victims were teachers, one teacher fell at Columbine, another among the 10 dead at Red Lake, Minn.; three more at Parkland. Every teacher fears they will be called upon to act as a human shield if their classroom is attacked.
We will be with those students even if some school administrators are taking a more intimidating tone.
Like most parents and teachers, we have no patience for students who will treat this as an all-day hall pass. But we have even less regard for those adults who don’t see the value and validity of this movement and moment.
In a letter from interim superintendent Craig Rydquist, Modesto City Schools appeared to be trying to tread a fine line, saying “we must maintain a safe learning environment, free from disruption and political partiality. It is our expectation that students will adhere to the attendance and behavioral guidelines…” In a separate message, another MCS official told teachers to “Remind students that there are consequences for leaving class.”
What happens if the students decide to join this national movement and ignore the district’s consequences and expectations?
We prefer the approach at Turlock Unified School District, which explicitly said “No students will be disciplined for demonstrating responsibly while on campus.”
Riverbank Unified Superintendent Daryl Camp got it exactly right. His district will “make it a teachable moment,” he told The Bee. A teachable moment for students, teachers, administrators and others far beyond the school grounds.
Schools in South Dakota, Arizona and Texas have already dealt harshly with protesting students. Anticipating resistance in such deeply red states, the ACLU has signaled it will defend those who follow their consciences out the classroom doors.
We all should. That’s because the most important “learning environment” to be found anywhere in this nation on March 14 will be among those students willing to consider – for 17 meaningful minutes – the unthinkable. These students are attempting to shape a better future, exercising the rights guaranteed to America’s citizens to peaceably assemble and speak their minds.
These young people don’t claim to have all the answers, but at least they are willing to search for them. So should we all.