Immediately after Hannah Perkins heard about the shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., she said she knew something had to be done. “Just anything, honestly,” she said.
Like many students across the country, Perkins, 14, an eighth-grader at DeKalb School of the Arts, said she watched as the momentum for change built, and decided to get involved.
Perkins isn’t alone. She is one of thousands of students who have mobilized to organize more than 400 March for Our Lives events to be held March 24 at 10 a.m across the country and around the world. The main March for Our Lives will be held in Washington, D.C., but Perkins joined a group organizing a march on the Georgia State Capitol.
The Atlanta march has an estimated 5,000 RSVPs and 12,000 more people interested in attending.
While many students in schools across the county have already taken part in organized walkouts, there is also a nationwide 17-minute student walkout planned for March 14 at 10 a.m., and local school districts have taken notice.
On Feb. 22, DeKalb County School District (DCSD) superintendent Stephen Green released a statement in support of peaceful protests.
“If a student walkout or protest happens in one of our schools, we will allow the students to peacefully protest. We encourage our students to be respectful,” the statement read. “Please understand that the Student Code of Conduct remains in place and will be enforced during these times.
We will not tolerate behavior that disrupts school operations or threatens the safety and order of our schools.”
Green highlighted the educational opportunity such a protest can provide.
“It can be a teachable moment where students can demonstrate their First Amendment right to be heard, knowing there are natural consequences to civil disobedience,” he said in the statement.
Jaime Rodriguez, whose son is a senior at Lakeside High School, is happy with the district’s stance regarding the protests.
“I think it’s so great that our kids in this area can feel that their voice can be heard and that they’re supported and they’re not getting pushback from people who technically could push back,” she said.
City Schools of Decatur (CSD) superintendent David Dude addressed the subject of protests in a blog post on the district website Feb. 27.
“We support a student’s right to non-disruptive protest and freedom of speech and will do what we can to support students interested in exercising those rights,” Dude wrote. “It is not appropriate, however, for a school district to endorse any walkout during the school day, and walkouts are specifically prohibited in our Student Code of Conduct.”
According to the CSD student code of conduct, participating in or encouraging participation in a walk-out constitutes a Level II offense, punishable by a minimum of three days of in-school suspension. However, the Level II language also states that, “consequences of a Level II disciplinary infraction may be reduced by the principal upon the successful completion of an appropriate program related to the nature of the offense.”
“An example of an ‘appropriate program’ principals might consider is having a student write a persuasive letter to one of their elected representatives taking a position on an area of concern to the student,” Dude wrote. “It is not appropriate to predetermine any consequences that may or may not be faced by students who choose to walkout or encourage others to do so, so any such consequences will be determined by school administrators consistent with the SCC.”
Dude wrote that individual CSD schools may choose to provide optional, age-appropriate activities during the time organizers have designated for the 17-minute walkout or at another time that works better for class schedules.
“I am confident that all leaders in our school district stand ready to help those students who are interested in creating change in this or other areas relevant to them,” he wrote.
Perkins said she’s happy with the way schools have reacted to the idea of the protests and clarified that the protests were not designed to be against the schools, but instead, were designed to encourage lawmakers to pass “common sense” gun legislation.
“We do drills to prepare for a mass shooting. We’re just taught to expect it,” she said. “It’s terrifying.”
She said she also is happy with safety measures DCSD has already put in place, such as employing the use of public safety K-9 units and including security roll doors on newly-constructed buildings, but it isn’t enough.
“I think they are trying to reassure us. Those are all noble efforts,” she said. “I would personally feel better if we did get that common-sense gun legislation because it would not completely eliminate the threat, but it would get us closer to that goal of the children feeling safe.”