The Star-Herald

Of snow and solidarity

Hello, Mother Nature? We must protest.

That storm that’s heading our way this week — we want it stopped. Spring is a week away.

However, whether we shake our fists at the heavens or not, snow will come. And so will spring, eventually.

But there is a larger protest this week, one in which schools from around the nation and even the world are participating. This national walkout is one in which some students proposed walking out of class for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 victims of the Parkland school shooting in Florida.

I have seen it variously called a demonstration against gun violence, an anti-gun protest and a memorial for the victims. National organizers have dubbed it the Women’s March Youth Empower National School Walkout, slated to take place at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 14.

Various statements have come from school officials, in Maine and elsewhere, condemning the walkout, saying students will be prohibited from participating or punished if they participate, on the grounds that schools should not sanction political activity.

The BDN’s Callie Ferguson wrote on March 1 that Superintendent Virginia Rebar of SAD 13 of Somerset County warned students would be penalized if they took part in the walkout, with penalties also extended to school staff.

Rep. Dustin White of Aroostook County’s District 146 said in a press statement March 7 that “allowing students to walk out of class for 17 minutes not only hinders the teacher’s ability to educate, it undermines the neutral position an educational institution must take. For a walkout is not a remembrance but a political action … a walkout is a sign of defiance and protest that has no place in our schools.”

Though it may have its roots in a political movement, the event will have — and should have — little to do with politics here in The County. Whatever your political position, the upshot is that students are scared, they are hurting, they are determined to change something — and they are standing in solidarity with 17 people who went to school one morning and never returned home.

Some local school districts, Caribou, Houlton and Fort Fairfield among them, are allowing students to participate if they choose to, with school officials pledging their support to the students and making efforts to keep them safe throughout the activity.

Aroostook Republican reporter Chris Bouchard writes this week that RSU 39 schools will let students choose whether to join the walkout or not during the 17 minutes. Superintendent Tim Doak said they may walk out of class, remain in their classrooms or even seek a space for solitude, with counseling and safety provided to all regardless of their choices.

Is the walkout a political action? Opinions will differ on that. Whether it is or isn’t, County school districts, admirably, have the right idea: let the youth choose to participate or not, keep them safe and give them support.

In an era where school violence happens with frightening regularity, what these students are doing goes far deeper than politics. It is a plea for simple human rights: the right to go to school, the right to be safe, the right to stand up for what you believe in and have adults listen and protect you.

What they are doing does have political ramifications, though: It just may send a message that at least our youth are sick of the partisan bickering and inaction in the halls of government.

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