Associated Press

Students Put Pencils Down, Walk Out in Gun Protests

The coordinated walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women's March, which brought thousands to Washington, D.C., last year

Thousands of students across the D.C. area staged walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence, one month after the deadly shooting inside a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Police cruisers escorted hundreds of students from Montgomery Blair High School as they marched through Silver Spring, Maryland. The students marched to the nearby Metro station, carrying signs that said "Protect Children, Not Guns" and "Our Blood, Your Hands."

The group eventually made it to the White House, where they joined thousands of other students to demand stronger gun control laws.

Walkouts were planned at schools across the nation. The first large-scale, coordinated demonstration happened at 10 a.m., when students walked out of class for a 17-minute walkout. Each minute represented each of the 17 students and staff members killed in Florida. Many organizers and participants are using the #enough hashtag. 

In Prince George's County, hundreds of students from Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Maryland, left class and walked to the school's football field. 

Amanya Page, a student member of the Prince George's County School Board and a junior at Parkdale High School, worked to ensure students at her school and others in the county could participate.

"A lot of people underestimate the student voice," Page said. "There’s something that needs to be done if somebody can come into a school with a machine gun and just start shooting randomly.”

Students across the nation are taking up the call in a variety of ways. Some planned roadside rallies to honor shooting victims and protest violence. Others were to hold demonstrations in school gyms or on football fields. In Massachusetts and Ohio, students said they'll head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations.

After the walkout Wednesday, some students in Massachusetts say they plan to rally outside the Springfield headquarters of the gun maker Smith & Wesson. Students and religious leaders are expected to speak at the rally and call on the gun maker to help curb gun violence.

At Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, a group of fifth-graders have organized a walkout with the help of teachers after seeing parallels in a video they watched about youth marches for civil rights in 1963. Case instructors said 150 or more students will line a sidewalk along a nearby road, carrying posters with the names of Parkland victims.

It's one of several protests planned for coming weeks. The March for Our Lives rally for school safety is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation's capital on March 24, its organizers said. And another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

The walkouts have drawn support from companies including media conglomerate Viacom, which said it will pause programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts, and students will temporarily take over MTV's social media accounts.

The planned protests have drawn mixed reactions from school administrators. While some applaud students for taking a stand, others threatened discipline. 

Here's how school districts in the D.C. area say they are preparing for potential walkouts, and what consequences students may face for participating. 

DC Public Schools: D.C. is encouraging families to discuss with their children any plans for the children to walkout. "If your child plans to participate, please notify us using the normal attendance procedures. For high school and middle school students: If your child leaves class, it will be counted as an absence. To have this count as an excused absence for your child, please provide a note and ensure your student is back in class by 10:30 a.m. Otherwise, the absence will count as an unexcused absence," a letter to families said.

Alexandria City Public Schools: "ACPS is committed to providing an inclusive, safe, caring and challenging learning environment for all students. In anticipation of potential student walkouts at our middle and high schools on March 14, we want to inform you of how we will ensure the continuity of classroom instruction for those who remain in class and the student safety for those who choose to participate," a letter to parents said. Schools have designated supervised assembly points.

Arlington County Public Schools: "Our secondary schools will support students’ participation in a brief national walkout on March 14, to allow them this one additional time to convey their feelings on school property and without greatly disrupting the school day," a letter to families said. "Students who participate will not be penalized for taking part in their school’s brief demonstration, and we will work to ensure that any students who are not interested in participating will not be pressured to do so."

Charles County Public Schools: If middle school or high school students choose to walk out of school, there will be a designated, supervised area for them to assemble, Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill said in a letter to parents. They then will be expected to return to their classes. "Students who choose to walk out of their classes will not be permitted to make up any work that they miss," the letter said. This week, the school district launched a "see something, say something" campaign to urge students to report anything unusual to an adult.

Fairfax County Public Schools: "Principals have been directed to work with students to find safe opportunities to facilitate the observance by students who choose to do so, while minimizing the disruption to the instructional day," a district spokesman said.

Loudoun County Public Schools: School officials hope students will opt for alternatives to walkouts, like walking around the school track and making T-shirts. Students who do walk out can expect to get detention.

Montgomery County Public Schools: The district is working with students to provide "on-property alternatives" to walkouts, including letter writing, moments of silence and dialogue sessions. Students will receive an unexcused absence for leaving school property without permission," a district spokesman said.

Prince George's County Public Schools: The district supports "the spirit" of the National School Walkout, schools CEO Kevin Maxwell said in a letter. Staff members are asked to give students outlets for expression on school grounds. "Leaving school grounds unaccompanied presents significant risks to student safety," the letter said. "Please follow normal attendance procedures; any student absent after the walkout will be considered unexcused."

Prince William County Schools: Students can "hold group protests/walk-outs on school grounds, in a safe area designated by the principal. They won’t be marked absent or tardy as long as demonstrations don’t exceed 30 minutes, or another reasonable time period established by the principal," a letter to families said.

Stafford County Public Schools: Principals are talking with student leadership teams about potential walkouts. "Each school will establish a safe place for students to gather within the school building. SCPS does not condone students exiting the building, due to a significant safety risk, especially in light of the specificity of time and date of the 'Walk-Out,'" a letter to parents said. School officials are encouraging sit-ins in lieu of walkouts. "Schools may choose to provide an opportunity for writing during this time, for students who wish to advocate for their perspective in a written format," the letter to parents said. Students are asked to return to their classrooms. "Principals will enforce the Code of Conduct for non-compliant behavior," the letter said.

But some students vowed to walk out anyway.

"Change never happens without backlash," said Kara Litwin, a senior at Pope High School in the Cobb County School District.

The possibility of being suspended "is overwhelming, and I understand that it's scary for a lot of students," said Lian Kleinman, a junior at Pope High.

"For me personally this is something I believe in, this is something I will go to the ends of the Earth for," Kleinman said.

Meanwhile, free speech advocates geared up for a battle. The American Civil Liberties Union issued advice for students who walk out, saying schools can't legally punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they will provide free legal help to students who are punished.

Associated Press writers Jeff Martin and Kantele Franko contributed to this report.  

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