At this point, things have become almost routine. A mass shooting happens somewhere in the U.S., somewhere unexpected. Everyone is horrified first, then saddened. The politicians all give their thoughts and their prayers, then hope everything goes away. As the saying goes, time heals all wounds (and allows your constituents to forget they were angry about your inaction on issue x,y or z).
But in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, there has been an unprecedented wave of activism on the part of young people. For the first time in years, it feels as if there may actually be some action on the part of legislators — be they from the local, state or national level — to at least address the fact that innocent people are being gunned down by the dozens every year in senseless acts of violence.
Part of that activism has included the planning of the so-called March For Our Lives, set for March 24 in Washington, D.C. The march is being planned in part by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and organizers plan to have “sister marches” in cities across the U.S. that include walkouts by students of both high schools and colleges.
Cue the pushback.
A number of school districts — including our very own Washoe County School District — say they will still hold students as either tardy or absent should they choose to participate in the walkout (though the WCSD does say it “understands” the intent of the walkout, for whatever that may be worth). The University of Nevada, Reno, on the other hand, says no penalties will come to university students (either current or prospective) should they decide to participate.
On a surface level, this reticence to allow high schoolers off the hook is understandable. “Activism” seems an easy excuse to play hooky, and for some (or even many) school administrators, a walkout — no matter how admirable the cause — is still a disruption to the normal learning environment.
Even so, it doesn’t change the fact that on some level the decision to mark students absent or tardy creates a chilling effect on what should be considered an exercise of free speech.
School shootings, to say nothing of mass shootings generally or even just gun-related incidents that take place at schools, have become almost painfully common. It is refreshing, then, that the students of Parkland have finally had enough. It is our hope, too, that their resolve will empower not just the high schoolers of this country, but all students to believe that we might affect positive change at the highest levels of power.
But when a school or school district says it will take names during a walkout, they must understand that they are unfairly restricting the right of their students to speak, and therefore unfairly restrict their right to affect the change this country has needed since two teens opened fire at Columbine nearly 20 years ago.
So we commend the university for taking the stance they have. Ultimately, in a situation like this, free speech must be allowed.
The editorial board can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.