Washington Lawyer - August/September 2018 - 18
FOR ME, IT WAS
I KNOW NOW
THAT WE HAVE
TO NOT BE
HAVE WAYS OF
OUR OWN ISSUES.
ISHMAIAH MOORE, 17
"From an education standpoint, if we create a less rigid environment when it
comes to protests and voicing opinion, we allow kids to test things out, make
mistakes, and learn from their mistakes," says Gross. "There's an educational
value, a formative opportunity, to allowing teenagers to advocate."
Students who participated in gun violence protests say the experience was
educational. Tanaquil Eltsov, 14, has participated in three student walkouts
at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington, Virginia. For the most part,
says Eltsov, administrators and teachers didn't get in their way.
'IT WAS WORTH IT'
Not all student protests in the past few years have been about gun control.
On May 15, 2017, for example, a group of more than 100 Hazelwood West High
School students in Hazelwood, Missouri, walked out of school in support of
their teachers whose contract negotiations had reached a stalemate.
There was one teacher, she says, who threatened to mark students as absent
if they participated in the first walkout, leaving an opening for them to get
suspended or otherwise be subject to school discipline. That threat was
enough to keep some students from leaving the classroom, Eltsov says.
Students said that school administrators didn't try to stop them from protesting. However, when administrators told the students to come back inside,
they refused. The following day, the protesting students were suspended
and some were blocked from walking at graduation. Student athletes were
also temporarily barred from participating in sports. Suspended students
became concerned that their community college scholarships could be
Eltsov is grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of the walkouts and,
even more specifically, to have made a speech to fellow students. "When I was
able to speak to the group, it was like an adrenalin rush to feel like people were
taking what you thought into consideration," she says.
"That was really rough," says Ishmaiah Moore, a 17-year-old junior who
participated in the protests and initially received a five-day suspension.
"People were worried, and the whole thing blew up into a frenzy of panic
Wermiel says we have yet to see whether the gun violence protests will
have any lasting impact. "The first question is: What happens to this student
movement over the summer? Are they able to harness their beliefs in protest
and keep it going?" Wermiel says.
The suspended students continued to protest for their teachers and also against
their punishment, which they argued was more severe than the disciplinary
actions spelled out in the school rules.
"The second question is: If they keep it going, what fuels it? Is it fueled by
progress or lack of progress? The third question is: What do students take
away from this experience - an appreciation for the value of debate? Or is
the message, we want you to do it our way and hear our views, but we're not
interested in what other people think. All three of these questions remain
open questions right now."
"Kids started a longer-term protest after that. It grew into something bigger,"
says Gross, who was on hand for some of the protests.
Gross points out that when punishment for a student's protest is more severe
than outlined in a student handbook or in the school rules, then the question
becomes, "Are you now increasing the punishment because of the content of