Maine students face encouragement and discipline for anti-gun walkout

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The #Enough protest event will bring Maine students out of class for 17 minutes to honor gun victims and call Congress to action. Some schools are treating it as a teachable moment — and others are threatening disciplinary action.

As many as 40 schools so far plan to participate in an anti-gun violence protest on Wednesday that will take students out of their classrooms and into the streets of Maine. But the national event has elicited mixed reactions from administrators, ranging from embracing its educational value to threatening disciplinary action against students who participate.

The “#Enough: National School Walkout” event will see students across the nation leaving their schools on March 14 at 10 am for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The goal is to embrace the newfound power of student activism in the aftermath of Parkland, and to pressure Congress to pass stricter gun laws.

“We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns,” reads the event announcement on the website of Women’s March Youth Empower. “Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address the public health crisis of gun violence. We want Congress to pay attention and take note: many of us will vote this November and many others will join in 2020. Join us in saying #ENOUGH!”

The protest is significant not only for its size – pupils at more than 2,200 schools nationwide plan to join the protest – but for the grassroots organizing efforts by the students.

Nick Wilson, Maine Gun Safety Coalition executive director, told the Portland Press Herald the students “are keeping this story (the Parkland shooting) alive, and I think we’re all surprised by how involved they are.”

“As a movement and as a generation, we’ve failed these young people by not closing the loopholes in gun laws,” Wilson said. “Now we need to support them and get out of their way.”

MacKenzie Miller, a student walkout organizer at Mount Desert Island High School, is like many other teenagers involved in recent gun-violence protests who said the Florida school murders were a call to action.

“I was never a big fan of guns,” she told the Herald, “but after Parkland I just thought enough is enough.”

Some Maine school administrators have warned that students breaking attendance rules, even for a widespread civil action, would be punished according to school rules.

Students at Edward Little High School in Auburn will receive one hour of detention for walking out, according to the Lewiston Sun Journal.

Lisbon High School students will be allowed to take part in a moment of silence and meet for discussion, according to the Bangor Daily News. Yet Superintendent Richard A. Green said in a Feb. 28 letter that students leaving the grounds without permission would be punished — although he added an option for parents to dismiss their children to avoid disciplinary measures.

Walking back a previous punishment warning against both students and staff, School District 13 in Somerset County “will allow students to voluntarily safely honor the victims and share their opinions” but only if they remain within the building, according to Superintendent Virginia Rebar.

Students from other Maine schools have received permission to participate, including those at Morse High School with students from Bath and surrounding towns, as well as the high school and middle schools in Portland, the state’s largest city.

Student walkouts are also planned in the greater Bangor area, including at Bangor High School, John Bapst High School, Orono High School, Brewer High School, Old Town High School, and Hampden Academy. The Maine Gun Safety Coalition and Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine will host community walkouts in support of those students.

In some schools, the action is perceived as an opportunity for learning.

Superintendent Paul Perzanoski of Brunswick schools wrote in a March 5 letter that students would not only be allowed to express themselves peacefully, but that state lawmakers have also been invited for a discussion session with students at the school immediately after the walkout.

“It is our intent to utilize this teachable moment to promote our democracy by experiencing its impact in an objective, reasonable and positive way,” Perzanoski wrote. “Our diversity of views provide the strength for our nation.”