Walkout Wednesday: 17-minute student protests to mark 17 school shooting deaths

Students at an estimated 3,000 schools and universities across the United States are expected to stage a 17-minute walkout on Wednesday

Students at an estimated 3,000 schools and universities across the United States are expected to stage a 17-minute walkout on Wednesday morning to protest about government inaction on preventing school shootings and everyday gun violence.

The protest marks a month to the day since the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, which left 17 people dead. The walkouts are supposed to last 17 minutes in tribute to each of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims.

The National School Walkout is organized by Women’s March Youth Empower, which lists more than 3,100 separate walkout events registered on its website. In a press call on Tuesday night, student organizers from across the country shared their plans, which include writing letters to lawmakers and registering older students to vote.

At one small school in California, students will share the stories of each of the 17 Parkland victims, before staging a die-in on the ground outside – even though they’re expecting it to rain. At a Jewish school in Massachusetts, students will recite prayers and read a poem written by a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. In rural Maryland, students are writing down the reasons they are walking out to present to a visiting local politician.

Some students in the north-east, who are facing blizzard conditions, are planning to walk out into their school gymnasiums, rather than go outside.

The American Civil Liberties Union has released guidelines for students explaining what penalties schools can legally impose on students who walk out, including issuing them unexcused absences for missing class, and what the limits of those punishments should be.

“The school system can’t single out students’ political speech for harsher punishment than it would any other student conduct,” Sonia Kumar, an ACLU staff attorney, told the Guardian.

The politically charged protests have forced many schools to perform a balancing act, particularly when young children have announced they want to stage walkouts. In Alexandria, Virginia, a group of 10- and 11-year-olds are leading a walkout at their elementary school. Parents will sign students out, allowing them to attend the protest.

Rural, urban and suburban groups are participating in the protest, and Women’s March organizers said that participants should consider many kinds of gun violence, including police violence and the violence America inflicts on other countries through its foreign policy.

“This isn’t just about school shootings,” Madison Thomas, a Women’s March Youth Leader, said on the Tuesday night call. “Gun violence is an issue that impacts a lot of communities, and in particular black and brown communities. We want to make sure that people are uplifting those voices.”

“My school, myself and my community cannot explain how much it means to us,” Ashley Schulman, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, told student organizers on the call. “Thank you.”

Additional reporting by Tom Dart