Vt. School Joins Nationwide Walkout Calling for Gun Reform

This Wednesday will see a national day of youth activism around gun violence.

At 10 a.m. across the country, students are planning to walk out of school, both to honor the victims of the Parkland, Florida, shooting massacre, and to call on lawmakers to do more to reduce gun violence.

"We are not complicit in the mass murder of school children," said Hannah Frasure, a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg, Vermont, who plans to join classmates in a walkout.

Those Vermont students and peers nationwide are pledging to head outdoors briefly and demand legislative action aimed at reducing the chances of another mass shooting, including tighter controls on assault weapons.

Frasure said her peers will observe a moment of silence for the 17 Parkland victims and spend 17 minutes speaking out against the scourge of gun violence in the country and decrying inaction from elected officials.

CVU's normal class schedule will pause during the demonstration, according to administrators.

"Gun reform, in the sense of paying attention specifically to people's mental health and previous tendencies which they have exhibited, is very important," Frasure told necn, describing one change she would like to see develop from Wednesday's action.

In a memo sent last week to principals, superintendents and teachers across the state, Vermont's education secretary addressed the walkouts.

"Students have every right to use their voices to advocate for the things they believe in, so long as they don't disrupt the learning environment," Rebecca Holcombe wrote in the memo. "The potential for unsupervised or unplanned walkouts, however, poses several concerns."

Holcombe warned if some students end up off-campus without guidance, they're at greater risk — noting different communities and different students could face unique challenges.

Holcombe also said big displays could set a tricky precedent when it comes to policies around leaving school without permission.

At CVU, administrators said they worked closely with student walkout planners to try to get ahead of any potential problems, including ensuring that kids who don't want to participate still feel respected.

"Students are encouraged to have a voice," CVU curriculum director Katherine Riley said. "Obviously, we have plans in place to keep the students who do choose to walk out safe, and the students in the building safe."

Holcombe urged districts to promote open dialogue around important issues, suggesting a "talk-out" instead of a walkout.

"What if, instead of walking out, students committed to talking it out?" Holcombe asked in the memo. "What if students sat down to discuss with educators all the challenging and critical public issues that have come to the surface over the past few months, and in doing so created a safe space for different points of view? Wouldn't that leave them better prepared to find solutions to complex problems in the future — problems that current leaders have been unable to solve?"

Frasure said at her school, student organizers plan to keep advocating for safer schools beyond this one day of national action. One way, she added, is through educating peers — regardless of their political leanings — about how to contact the elected officials who represent them, so the young people can tell the politicians their opinions.

"It's just so very important that students are able to put their voice out there," Frasure said.

Many colleges and universities have announced that they will not hold it against high schoolers who join these peaceful protests against gun violence.

One of those schools, Vermont's Saint Michael's College, recently tweeted, "Students accepted to the college can be assured that their peaceful, responsible protest will not negatively impact decisions on admission."

In a previous memo about student voice in policy matters, Vermont Education Secretary Holcombe encouraged students to take part in civil debates about critical issues affecting their wellbeing.

In that Feb. 23 memo, Holcombe wrote, "At a time like this, we need to hear our students' voices more than ever."

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