Thousands of students, emboldened by a growing protest movement over gun violence, stood up in their classrooms on Wednesday and walked out of their schools in a nationwide demonstration, one month after a gunman killed 17 people at a high school in Florida.
The 17-minute protests unfolding at hundreds of schools are intended to pressure Congress to approve gun control legislation after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and come 10 days before major protests in Washington and elsewhere.
Here’s what to know:
• The first large wave of students began to leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. Eastern time. Across the country, others are scheduled to walk out at 10 a.m. in their local time zones.
• The demonstrations were not limited to school property. In Washington, sign-clutching students gathered outside the White House and on Capitol Hill.
• School administrators have been grappling with how to respond. Some districts welcomed or even tacitly encouraged walkouts, while others threatened disciplinary action against students who participate.
• It is unlikely that officials in Washington will quickly heed the demands of the students. Although Florida last week raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 and extended the waiting period to three days, President Trump on Monday abandoned his pledge to seek national-level reforms that the National Rifle Association opposed.
• The walkouts join a long history of student protests in America. And on Saturday, March 24, students are expected to gather in Washington and other cities for the March for Our Lives coordinated by Everytown for Gun Safety, a group backed by Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor. More walkouts are planned on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
• At 10 a.m., the entertainment company Viacom suspended regular programming on its cable channels. During the break, which lasted 17 minutes, MTV, VH1 and another Viacom network, Logo, highlighted the work and words of young anti-gun violence activists around the country, while other Viacom networks, including BET, Comedy Central, and Nickelodeon, aired messages of support for the walkouts.
• Follow our reporters on the ground on Twitter: Nick Madigan in Parkland, Fla.; Rick Rojas in Newtown, Conn.; Kate Taylor in New York; Mitch Smith in Chicago; Julie Turkewitz in Columbine, Colo.; Sean Keenan in Cobb County, Ga.; and Jenny Medina in California.
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Many are protesting in places haunted by violence.
Some of the day’s most poignant demonstrations are happening at schools whose names are now synonymous with shootings.
In Colorado, students at Columbine High School will leave their classrooms and begin 30 seconds of silence: 17 for the dead in Parkland and 13 for the dead on their own campus in the shooting that seemed to signify the beginning of a generation of school attacks.
Students from two nearby high schools will also walk out in solidarity.
Sam Craig, 15, a lead organizer and a student at one of the area’s high schools, said he was pushed to act after watching the videos coming out of Parkland.
“We saw people in classrooms just like ours, wearing clothes just like ours, they looked like they could have been any one of us at any of our schools,” he said. “And seeing them lying in pools of blood was really powerful for us.”
In Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, hundreds of students filed out of Newtown High School just moments before 10 a.m. and gathered in a parking lot near the football field. Some held posters. Organizers said they planned to recite the names of victims of gun violence. The district’s interim superintendent, Lorrie Rodrigue, said this month that school officials had “worked closely with student leaders to create a time for respectful student expression,” according to school board minutes. Dr. Rodrigue said she viewed the protests as an extension of social studies classes.
And in Parkland, students at Stoneman Douglas High began streaming out onto the school’s football field. The suspect in the rampage there, Nikolas Cruz, is expected to appear in court later Wednesday.
Not all districts are treating walkouts the same way.
Some school districts have openly accommodated the protests. In New York City, where students were permitted to participate if their parents granted permission, thousands walked out of their schools. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, joined one protest, lying on the ground with students to play dead.
Two minutes before 10 a.m., students from the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, a high school of some 1,600 students in East Harlem, started streaming onto Pleasant Avenue. They chanted “Enough is enough!” and held signs saying, “Arm Teachers With Pencils Not Guns,” and “Thoughts and Prayers Don’t Save Lives Gun Reform Does.”
The police had closed off the block and school staff members, wearing orange security vests, looked on.
But other districts have warned that they will discipline students who participate by marking them as absent or even suspending them.
“We cannot condone students leaving classes during the instructional day to participate in this activity,” said Barbara P. Canavan, the schools superintendent in Harford County, Md., who said that the protest “presents, paradoxically, a threat to student safety, as word of the walkout has been widely disseminated and students who go outside could become more vulnerable.”
Instead, Ms. Canavan said, her district would offer “a learning module that will provide students with an opportunity to share their feelings about recent events across the nation and will allow them to speak about solutions in a structured way.”
Still, students openly defied school districts that had warned them not to participate. In Cobb County, Ga., near Atlanta, where the school district had threatened discipline, more than 100 students at Walton High School marched from their school moments before the clock hit 10 a.m. The students, some bearing signs and others just stoic expressions, walked past the portable classrooms abutting the student parking lot and filed onto the football field. A small group of parents huddled together in a subdivision, supporting the students.
Noelle Ellerson Ng, associate executive director for policy and advocacy for AASA, the association of the nation’s superintendents, said that schools had to balance the First Amendment rights of students with their other responsibilities, including safety.
One planned demonstration at Broughton Magnet High School in Raleigh, N.C., was abruptly canceled when the principal learned of a threat. “The principal was made aware from another student that somebody had posted a threat on Snapchat directed toward the walkout,” Lisa Luten, a spokeswoman for the school system in Wake County, said on Wednesday.
Ms. Luten said the principal had asked students to return to class and that they had complied. Law enforcement officials were investigating.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which has offered training to students planning to participate in the walkouts, said that districts can discipline students under attendance guidelines, but cannot “discipline you more harshly because of the political nature of or the message behind your action.” Many colleges, meanwhile, have said that high school students disciplined for protesting will not have it counted against them when they apply for admission.
Officials in Lafayette Parish, La., initially said that students could participate in the walkout, believing that it would honor the Florida victims, but when it became clear there was a political undercurrent, a wave of outrage from the public led the school board to adopt a new plan: a minute of silence.
Jeremy Hidalgo, the school board’s vice president, said that parents were frustrated by plans to use 17 minutes of class time for anything beyond the traditional curriculum and that they “were just disgusted and disappointed that we were going to participate in a national walkout that was geared around gun control.”
He expected some students to demonstrate anyway.
And in many high schools, 10 a.m. may pass without anyone getting up from their chairs.
Ronald S. Saari, the district administrator in Potosi, Wis., said he did not anticipate any walkouts there. “We believe that because we are rural, there is a different perspective than the highly publicized gun violence narrative we see in most of the media,” he said in an email. “Comments we have heard have been, ‘Why would people want to go outside of the school, to protest, when there can be some nut out there who could shoot at students?’”
Why they are walking, in their own words.
We asked students across the country who planned to participate why they were doing so. Here are some of their responses:
“Seventeen people are dead and I am no longer willing to listen to politicians who deem my life less valuable than a piece of metal.” — Maya Homan, Palo Alto, Calif.
“On Wednesday, we plan to say the name, age and story of each of the victims, followed by a moment of silence. We’re doing this so that the students and faculty that were killed are not just remembered as numbers, but as people. Also, most people at my school feel separated from these tragedies, so giving them background information on the victims could help them feel more connected.” — Jessica Burg, Westchester County, N.Y.
“I am walking out of school on Wednesday because our president and Congress need to do more than just tweet prayers and thoughts.” — Beyoncé Brown, Philadelphia
“Students don’t get to voice their opinion very often and it’s thrilling to be one of the millions across the United States who will have that option. The students at Stoneman Douglas who have spoken out and become activists are incredibly inspiring.” — Katie Cummins, Louisville, Ky.
How young is too young for children to join the protests?
Elise Cappella, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School, said there was a difference between what the youngest students — from kindergarten to second grade — and older children could understand about the walkout. While not advocating any particular stance, she said: “Schools could make the decision that kids in kindergarten through second grade are not provided the opportunity to walk out. They are cognitively, socially, emotionally younger. They may feel more fear about it and less understanding.”
Children in the third grade and up, she said, will be more likely to be exposed to news and hear their parents talking about it. “They are reaching a point where having something that’s potentially positive and productive to do that makes them feel a sense of agency and safety could be a good thing,” she said.
Ms. Cappella said that whether elementary schools decided to participate in the protest or not, the goal should be to project a sense of community to their students.
“And if you can create that space,” she said, “whether that’s in the classroom or in the hallways or in the schoolyard or out at a protest or a march, that’s the most beneficial space for young kids to be in.”
Read more about how elementary schools prepared for the walkout here.
Reporting was contributed by Julie Bosman, Sydney Ember, Anemona Hartocollis, Sean Keenan, Rick Rojas, Stephanie Saul and Kate Taylor.