Opinion: School walkouts over gun control are good — for students

The recent March for our Lives protests highlighting the rise of school shootings — and the inaction that follows them — has made many headlines over the past few weeks. Almost every major school has had some form of formal or informal protest during school hours to divert attention to this issue. Major media outlets have also had many differing discussions about recent gun-related violence and how we could solve it.

One ethical quandary still hangs in the air, and not many have addressed it directly: many school teachers and administrators have been active in encouraging students to hold these protests. This can be seen as political bias seeping into public education — something that is uncomfortable, unprofessional or even unethical.

A common goal widely desired in public education is an unbiased, nondiscriminatory environment where students can learn. It is also a common goal to encourage students to speak their minds freely, defend their beliefs as they see fit and support all others regardless of opinion. While school walkouts and protests are the right of the students — after all, the First Amendment protects the right to free expression and assembly — the encouragement on part of teachers and administrators is where a line must be drawn. Their involvement in encouraging protests centered on one viewpoint of a politically divisive issue is a dicey move that can put administrators under fire for encouraging bias and alienating students who feel differently. Public education is funded by taxpayer dollars and not all taxpayers support stricter gun laws — let alone support the idea that their school might be encouraging pro-gun control or pro-Second Amendment opinions.

What’s more alarming is that students have been given detention and even suspensions for either participating or not participating in protests for gun control. Jacob Shoemaker, a senior at Hilliard Davidson High School in Hilliard, Ohio, became a notable instance of this when he refused to either participate in a school walkout or go to a space during the walkout for nonparticipants. According to the Washington Post, Shoemaker disagreed with such a politically divisive issue being discussed via protest or counter-protest at a public school. He personally felt that it wasn’t the appropriate time or place to discuss the issue. Refusing to take a side either way — neither supporting gun control nor pro-Second Amendment camps — he chose instead to stay in the classroom he was in when the walkout started. The school suspended him for remaining unsupervised in a classroom, which is against school policy.

The point remains that teachers and administrators overstepped their bounds when it came to the March for our Lives protests. Students should have the right to protest, yes — it is important that we teach young people their rights and how to use them — but encouraging (mostly) minors to support a politically divisive opinion about said rights is an ethical conflict that doesn’t belong in the classroom. If students should choose to protest for or against something, let them. If you’re a teacher or administrator, let the students have their own protest and have yours at another time or place — after all, the March for our Lives protests were open to everyone of every age and occupation. Bringing the issue to the classroom is a can of worms that students, parents, teachers and administrators would be better off leaving on the shelf.