On Wednesday, March 14, at 10 a.m., students around the United States will walk out of class for 17 minutes to demand tougher gun laws in response to the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14.
Country Day’s student and parent handbook states that once at school, a student may not leave campus without permission from parents and an administrator.
Furthermore, class cuts are automatically considered unexcused absences.
But the walkouts won’t be treated as such. On March 13 head of school Lee Thomsen emailed parents about the walkout and said that students who participate in the observance will be noted as “excused absent” for the period of time they miss class.
“We want to support what students are interested in doing,” he said in an interview.
However, other schools are threatening those who walk out with suspensions – or worse.
For example, CNN reports, Needville Independent School District in Texas states that anyone who participates in a walkout or other political protest will be suspended for three days.
Country Day’s tolerant attitude is also different from that of other private schools in Sacramento.
According to former student Meg Christian (sister of junior Jack Christian), anyone who walks out at St. Francis High School will receive disciplinary action. In addition, they must also alert the school 24 hours in advance if they wish to walk out.
In a March 14 poll, 6 percent of SCDS high school students said that students missing classes for the walkout should be penalized.
The issue regarding the policy is so complex because the walkout is associated with a wide variety of beliefs, some of which (like gun control or defunding the NRA) can be seen as partisan, and Country Day strives to be a nonpartisan school.
During morning meeting on March 5, though, Thomsen said that he views the walkout as a way to discuss school safety, which he believes is a nonpartisan issue; thus, he supports students walking out.
However, some students aren’t walking out for just school safety.
In the March 14 poll, many students listed both honoring the Parkland shooting victims and protesting against gun laws as their main reasons for walking out.
Junior Bella Mathisen, who plans to walk out, says that she agrees with Thomsen that the walkout isn’t about taking a political stance.
However, she said the walkout is also about gun control and demonstrating how guns affect schools.
Junior Gabi Alvarado, too, understands Thomsen’s viewpoint but thinks the march isn’t about just school safety.
“I think we should walk out and that it’s the right thing to do, but there is definitely a political tie to gun violence,” she said.
Alvarado, along with Mathisen, attempted to organize a walkout in November 2016, when Donald Trump was elected, because she was concerned about the hate speech and violence that had surrounded his campaign towards minorities.
So she went to Thomsen the day after the election to ask whether she and Mathisen could walk out without penalty.
“We made it clear that it was not a political statement or against Trump or Republicans, but about the hate speech that had gone on and the violence against minorities,” Alvarado said.
At that time, Alvarado said, Thomsen did not allow them to walk out because he did not want Country Day to seem biased.
Therefore, Alvarado said that she was “pretty upset” when Thomsen told students that the school would not punish students if they wanted to walk out this time.
“He’s saying that it’s not political because safety isn’t a political thing and I agree with that, (but the November walkout) was about safety. It was about how comfortable we were in this country,” she said.
In a March 13 poll, 63 percent of students said they plan to walk out on March 14. And according to a poll on the same day, a number of teachers will join them.
While many students say they’ll walk out, head of high school Brooke Wells said that the school will not formally organize a plan for the walkout, since it is a student-driven protest.
In his email, Thomsen said that high school students plan to hold the observance in the Matthews Library due to the high chance of rain tomorrow.
On March 24, there will also be a March for Life in Sacramento.
Only 9 percent of students said they will definitely attend that march, but 40 percent of students said they might.
—By Héloïse Schep