As students walked out of dozens of high schools across the nation Wednesday in a social media-driven protest of gun violence and what many teens are decrying as lax gun-control laws, the Santa Fe school board was considering how the district should respond if students and teachers here participate in nationwide school walkouts planned in March and April.
While one local school board member publicly voiced support for the effort, other district leaders have expressed concerns about student safety and attendance requirements, should large numbers of kids walk out of class.
The Women’s March Youth Empower movement is asking school districts around the country to join in a 17-minute demonstration March 14 — one minute for each person killed in a mass shooting last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The crime, one of many school shootings in the U.S. in the first two months of 2018, rallied students in Florida and across the U.S. to demand that political leaders take action on firearms restrictions.
Another event is planned April 20.
The Florida shooting “is definitely a topic on our minds,” said Capital High School senior Marisol Baca. Students and educators at Capital have been discussing the youth movement, she said, which has exploded in the last few days, with young people gathering at statehouses and the U.S. Capitol to call for bans on assault rifles and other gun legislation. Other youth have held rallies or silent demonstrations at their schools.
“This is something that teachers want to take part in,” Baca said of the upcoming walkouts, “and our principal knows about it. I think it’s something all students should be involved in.”
Santa Fe school board member Steven Carrillo agrees. He announced this week that he will introduce a resolution during a study session Tuesday, Feb. 27, stating the board’s support for school administrators, staff and students who want to take part in the March 14 walkout.
“I think it would be a real shame if this district did not jump on board with districts all over the country,” Carrillo told fellow board members during a meeting Tuesday.
Superintendent Veronica García and board member Maureen Cashmon raised concerns, however, about who would supervise students who walked out en masse.
The district has to find a way to allow students to express themselves while also ensuring they remain safe on campus and are complying with state attendance requirements, García added later.
Board President Lorraine Price told Carrillo that students — not the school board — should drive such an effort.
If school boards and administrators in Santa Fe or other public school districts in the state do decide to support the walkout, said the leader of a New Mexico teachers union, the organization will back them.
Betty Patterson, president of the National Education Association of New Mexico, said, “Walking 17 minutes to remember the lives of 17 brave educators and students, and to honor and support the survivors, will be a profoundly positive educational experience for New Mexico students.”
Carrillo said he doesn’t expect school leaders in Santa Fe to take a stand on the walkout, but he believes board members could still show their support for students who add their voices to call for political action to quell gun violence.
“Even if the principals don’t say it’s OK … the kids have had enough,” Carrillo said. “It’s always the kids who get killed.”
Miranda Viscoli, co-president of the gun-control advocacy group New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an email Wednesday that students are “frightened, heartbroken and beyond frustrated that the adults in their community are doing so little to keep them safe.
“We will stand proudly with them on March 14th and are helping to facilitate the school walk-out,” she added. “Their voices when it comes to school shootings are the most important and it is our job as adults to do everything we can to help them be heard.”
Viscoli hosted a discussion Wednesday in teacher Meredith Tilp’s class at Capital High on the Florida shooting and the need for tougher legislation on firearms as a way to protect students.
“As a member of the rabble-rousing Vietnam War generation,” Tilp said, “my teachers supported me [in protests], and while I did not at all understand what was going on, I now do. And I support the students … in the walkout.”
Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.