More than 185,000 students from more than 2,500 schools are expected to walk out of their classrooms across the country on Wednesday to protest gun violence — exactly a month after a former student fatally shot 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
National Walkout Day, which was put together by the organizers of the Jan. 2017 Women’s March, encourages peaceful protest for the duration of the walkout.
“There’s gun violence in our schools and on our streets and we want to show the members of Congress and other adults in our lives that we are fed up with being unsafe,” Madison Thomas, national college coordinator for Women’s March Youth Empower, tells PEOPLE. “We’re finally taking a stand and showing unified support for gun reform.”
Some school districts across the country have threatened disciplinary action against students who walk out.
Here are five things parents need to know about the nationwide protest — and potential consequences for students who walk out.
1. Students Will Walk Out for 17 Minutes — Honoring the 17 Florida Victims
At 10 a.m. local time, in every time zone across the country, students will walk out of class for 17 minutes — a minute for each of the victims who died during the Parkland shooting on Feb. 14.
“Parents should know it is a safe action for their students to take, and stand up for something that they feel strongly in,” Thomas says about the protest. “It is short but has a really large impact on empowering their child to find their voice, and use it to stand up for their beliefs.”
2. ACLU Lawyer: Any Penalty Must Be Proportional to Unexcused Absence
Different districts in different states have different rules for unexcused absences. ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner says it’s important for parents and students to know their school’s policy.
“They can’t impose a severe penalty for participating in the political activity when they would have imposed a mild penalty for another kind of absence,” Wizner tells PEOPLE. “If a student was to get expelled for a 17-minute or even two-hour absence one time from a public school, I would want to know about that. I think that would almost certainly be a constitutional violation.”
Instead, Wizner hopes children and parents will take the opportunity to discuss the history and importance of protesting.
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“We want young people not just to learn history, math and science, but learn citizenship and civic engagement. What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is young people succeeding where generation of adults have failed in fundamentally changing a conversation around a critical issue,” he said. “Sometimes breaking rules is a way to bring a lot more attention to an important issue — that’s the story of the civil rights movement in the south. ”
3. There Are Legal Resources for Students Who Are Disciplined
Some school …read more