VB Schools take neutral stance on planned student walkout to protest gun violence

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach City Public Schools say they won’t encourage or discourage students from taking part in an upcoming national student walkout to protest gun violence.

Students at high schools across the country are planning to walk out of their schools at 10 a.m. on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, to show their support to end gun violence.

Organizers say students will then stand in front of their school for 17 minutes, to honor the 17 Parkland shooting victims.

Students in schools across the country have been walking out to protest gun violence since the Parkland shooting, with varying levels of consequences. A superintendent in Texas said students in his district would be suspended three days for participating in walkouts.

Virginia Beach Schools went with what’s on the books.

Virginia Beach School Board Policy 5-40 for Assemblies/Demonstrations “acknowledges each person’s constitutional right to freedom of speech while also outlining specific parameters and consequences for student participation in both planned and spontaneous assemblies during school hours,” school officials said in a letter to parents.

Officials say anyone who participates in the upcoming event will receive an unexcused absence, but no disciplinary action.

“Ultimately, decisions regarding student participation in events such as this are personal for each family, the letter continues. “Our hope is that this information will be helpful to you as your family talks about walkouts and the many other ways in which students can make their voice heard on important topics.”

The announcement comes days after the ACLU of Virginia sent a letter to all public school superintendents in the Commonwealth, urging them not to punish students who walk out of school as a form of protest more harshly than if they are absent from class for any other reason.

“From the ACLU of Virginia’s perspective, a public school should always seek to impose the fewest and narrowest restrictions on student expression possible given the special circumstances of the school environment,” the letter states. “We strongly question whether being absent from class for a few minutes or even a day creates a substantial disturbance or disruption of school activities or infringes on the rights of other students.”

Virginia Beach Schools officials emphasized that students aren’t allowed to leave school property during the instructional day, and for security reasons, parents and community members can’t take part in demonstrations at school. They say staff members who are not leading instruction at the time of the walkout will supervise students in designated areas on school grounds.

10 On Your Side hasn’t heard from other school systems around the area. Check back for updates.