As students nationwide participated in “walk outs” to support gun control Wednesday, one school in Brooklyn forbade students from protesting, reportedly blocking doorways to prevent students from leaving.
Intermediate School 318, a public junior high school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn would not let students participate in Wednesday’s walk out, a source at the school tells ThinkProgress. Administrators and school safety agents were reportedly responsible for blocking school exits.
Prior to the walk out, the New York City Department of Education informed schools not to prevent students from participating. The agency provided direction to schools about the walk out, listing frequently asked questions and answers on its website. Under the question, “Are schools required to let students who want to participate go outside? If schools do not want students to participate, can they require students to remain in class?” the guidance reads, “Middle and high schools will not prevent students from participating in the walk out, even if students do not have parental permission.”
The guidance further specifies that elementary students who wish to participate must be signed out by parents or guardians, adding that for any students who require nurses or paraprofessionals for safety, parents or qualified staff “must be willing” to walk out with them. A source at the Brooklyn school who did not want to be identified for fear of professional consequences, said administrators told students, “If you wanted to walk out so badly, you should have your parents come pick you up.” When students tried to reach out to parents, they were told that if they left, they would not be coming back for the rest of the school day.
To make matters more confusing, school administrators gave conflicting information to students about the walk out and the consequences if students were to participate. The information changed “depending on who was delivering the message,” but one administrator told students they would be suspended if they walked out, the source said.
One school official made remarks to the students that suggested the walk out was pointless, the source said. Administrators told students to walk through the hallways instead for 17 minutes. The source also said that the school released information to parents about what the school planned to do for the walk outs — which did not include activism, but instruction and discussion — a few minutes before the school day ended on Wednesday.
“When one of the students was arguing why they wanted to leave, one of the administrators had asked a group of students, ‘Do you see any media outside? Well then why are you walking out? No one cares if you walk out,” the source said, adding that such comments send the wrong message to students and cautions them from being “critical active members of society.”
The staff also used intimidation and concerns about safety to try to convince students not to leave the school, according to the source. The school’s implication that participating in the walk out was unsafe “was very upsetting to me,” the source told ThinkProgress. The school did not respond to ThinkProgress’ requests for comment.
Numerous schools across the country have similarly attempted to convince students not to participate in the walk out, either through threats of suspension or claims that they would be safer staying inside. Paso Robles Unified School District in California told parents that students would be sanctioned with an unexcused absence. Paso Robles Superintendent Chris Williams said that protests would create a “potentially unsafe environment.”
American University lecturer Daniel Lin tweeted that his child’s school had given each student detention for participating in the national walk out. “My child’s school gave detention to every student who participated in the walk out. The principal said protesting for greater school safety violated the rules about… wait for it… school safety.”
Despite these hurdles, students participated in walk outs throughout the day. While many students felt deterred by school officials, there were some standout cases in which only one student participated in the walk outs. Students at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord, California broke through a back gate in order to participate in the protest, as school staff had locked the gates before the 10 a.m. walk out, according to the East Bay Times. Students walked back to the school after administrators said they were going to call their parents. A student told East Bay Times, “We thought gun control is a big issue in this country. We don’t want our school to be the next one.”
Other schools in Brooklyn handled the walk outs differently, however.
Julia Ng, a social studies teacher who teaches 10th and 11th grade students at Edward R. Murrow High School in Brooklyn, said the walk out was succesful at her school, where Mayor Bill De Blasio joined students in protest. Student activists worked with the school to organize the walk out and faculty were told that they were not supposed to stop students from walking out.
“Our school administrators have been supportive in this. We have been able to help guide students to organize,” she said. “We’ve always taught based on Tinker versus Des Moines, as teachers and as administrates, as a school we’re not allowed to suppress their ability to express their opinions during the school day as long as it doesn’t interrupt the educational process. I believe our students did not disrupt the educational process,” Ng said, referring to the 1969 Supreme Court case regarding an Iowa school’s decision to suspend students who wore black arm bands in opposition to the Vietnam War.
She added that students who chose not to participate went on with their instruction, and students who walked out were told to make up the work.
“That is the purpose of teachers, to help students support a cause that they feel is important to them,” Ng said.