Ahead of student walkouts, Baltimore area schools try to balance safety and free speech concerns

The ACLU of Maryland has sent letters to the school systems in Harford and Cecil counties, warning administrators not to punish students too harshly for taking part in the national student walkout against gun violence planned for Wednesday.

The letters are a response to complaints the organization has received from students and parents in those counties, who say administrators are threatening to punish students who walk out.

Student across the country plan to walk out of classes at 10 a.m. Wednesday as part of an effort to bring attention to gun violence and call for gun control measures following the shooting deaths last month of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

Elsewhere in the Baltimore area, the planned walkouts have been coordinated between student leaders, who feel strongly about publicly voicing their concerns about gun violence, and school administrators trying to balance keeping the young people safe during the protests and giving them space to speak out. In some schools, for instance, students will have assemblies, in others they will go onto the athletic fields.

“I want to hear support from the board. I know they have said it privately, but I don’t know whether privately is enough,” Shaffer said. “This is not a partisan issue. This is a ‘I am scared to go to a place that I thought was safe’ issue. I should not be afraid to go to school. We have the right to get an education without constantly fearing that someone with an assault rifle will enter the building. Something has to change.”

Some people have speculated that student organizers are being helped or directed by adults working behind the scenes.

Shaffer said any suggestion that adults are privately leading the students or organizing the walkouts in the county is false.

“I think students are really in control of the events,” she said.

The Baltimore Sun Media Group’s David Anderson contributed to this article.


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