Wednesday’s nationwide walkout has no place in public schools

The nationwide school walkout scheduled for Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m. is not a meaningful civics lesson or a teachable moment for our children. Nor will it provide an open forum for all students to express their political views, despite laws and policies prohibiting this level of activism by students, teachers and administrators during regular school hours.

It will, however, compromise the safety of our children and offer yet another glaring example of the lack of impartiality and nonpartisan instruction in our public schools.

At its core, the #Enough National School Walkout is political. It spawned from the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, whose organizers led protests in the nation’s capital on the day following President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The movement was not created to promote any views other than its own.

According to CNN, the progressive guild’s list of demands include a ban on assault weapons, expanded background checks and the passage of a gun violence restraining order law that would allow courts to seize firearms, without due process, from citizens who are believed to pose imminent danger to themselves or others.

All of these demands are overtly political and consist exclusively of policy positions rooted in a distinct political ideology. That is why it was incredibly disingenuous of Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz to suggest in his March 4 column that the walkout is not political in nature. The Women’s March website features an Action Network Map confirming that approximately 40 Maine schools have registered to participate through their website.

These are k-12 public school students we are talking about, Mr. Nemitz, who have signed up to walk out of class on a website belonging to a progressive political advocacy group.

Discerning the impropriety in this kind of activity is not, dare I say, rocket science. Any Maine student could connect the dots.

Attendance in Maine public schools is compulsory for students between the ages of 7 and 17. The statute requires students to attend school “during the time it is in regular session.” It does not say students may be exempt from this policy for political advocacy.

I graduated from high school just six years ago. I will admit that school start time policies have changed in some districts since my time. However, I am certain that 10 a.m. is still considered “regular session” of the school day. Students are most certainly required to be in school at this time.

Perhaps most upsetting, we know already that the walkout will disrupt classes for longer than 17 minutes. An image making its rounds on social media Monday afternoon depicted an announcement screen at Brunswick High School that featured the same promotional graphic for the walkout created by the Women’s March. The announcement states that a discussion will take place in the school theater for 35 minutes following the walkout.

Even if all students are allowed to express personal views during this time, such dialogues already have a time and place. It’s called the classroom, during a history, government or civics class. This is an appropriate environment for students – and only students – to share perspectives and challenge one another over concepts in social sciences. Educational programming should not cease in order for public school districts to cater to a nationwide walkout organized by a progressive political entity.

Every citizen should respect and appreciate the freedom of speech and right to assemble. The First Amendment is an unalienable right that cannot be taken away from us. However, this right does not extend to political advocacy by staff and students during school hours. On Wednesday, students, teachers and administrators should continue learning, teaching and supervising where they are required to be – in school.

I do sympathize for school districts. No matter how they handle the walkout, some students, parents and faculty will feel aggrieved. Nonetheless, administrators who allow students and staff to participate in the walkout will set horrible precedent for their districts. Many will face backlash from their communities when future rallies promoting different views are not catered to by school administration.

The walkout will likely be the first of many taxpayer subsidized, school-sanctioned protests to come; all of which will promote progressive ideals. Students with opposing viewpoints will be marginalized or exiled by their peers until every last student fits the mold.

Call it student-led if you want. Such half-baked assertions will never withstand factual scrutiny.