In response to the recent Florida shooting a student led grass roots effort to bring attention to school violence and gun control seems to be gaining some traction. As part of that movement there is a proposed 17 minute school walk out scheduled for March 14th. In preparation for that day many school administrators are wondering how best to respond. Here are a few thoughts:
- Embrace it. If you try to restrict it you will generally have more disruption to your school then a brief civil protest. Much like and old boiler you either let some steam off once in awhile or the whole thing can blow up in your face.
- Consider it a teachable moment. Talk with the student body about their constitutional rights and responsibilities. Civil discourse and assembly are all important principles to our form of government.
- Safety first. Decide on a safe place for the group to gather and agree upon how they plan to protest (laying on the ground in silence, having a few speakers but NO to burning candles inside or having signs with wooden handles that can be used to strike someone)
- Identify protest leaders, groups or clubs early on and partner with them to discuss the event. Ask for some of them to serve as liaisons on the day of the event and patrol the event with school administrators.
- Consider other groups within the school to support the effort. Have your school newspaper write articles, discuss it in your government and civics classes, have your AV club film it and interview people on the scene the day of the event, Art clubs can create event posters leading up to March 14th.
- Not everybody wants to protest with a big group. Provide an outlet for the quieter student who wants to be heard but doesn't want to lay in the grass. Provide a space for poetry, song lyrics, writings and other forms of art and expression for students to talk about school violence and gun control.
- Let your school families and community know what you are doing.
- Talk candidly before the protest about the time, location, behavioral expectations and when to return to the normal school day. Also address the consequences if students fail to behave properly.
- Be prepared for civil protesters (rule followers) and fringe disrupters (folks who come along side a legitimate well run protest then get rowdy and try to instigate inappropriate behavior). Remove the disruptive people quickly and individually. Do not punish those following the rules and demonstrating peacefully. This is a critical lesson in personal responsibility for your behaviors (both good and bad).
- A picture is worth a thousand words. Assign staff to videotape the event should inappropriate behaviors need to be dealt with after the event or even better celebrate how well it went!
- Easy on the police presence. We are a nation that prides itself on civil protest. Most of these protests happen with little to no police presence. Let your local police department know what is happening on March 14th but don't have them lined up on the front lawn in riot gear.
- With proper planning and coordination this event could take less than one hour out of the school day and serve as a valuable lesson to the students, staff and community for years to come.
This is John Baker for safetysolutions4schools.com.