Local students poised for gun control walkouts

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Students across our region are getting set to walk out of school in honor of students gunned down in Parkland, Florida. The walkouts will happen nationwide and last 17 minutes on Wednesday morning -- one for each victim.

"I think it's up to the students to say that we've had enough," said Allie Brown, a Burlington High School student helping to organize the event. Brown expects dozens of fellow BHS students to join in the National School Walkout -- leaving class at 10 a.m. and heading out in front of the school. "This is our way of saying we are scared for ourselves and our teachers and our peers, and if we want something to happen we're going to have to do it ourselves."

Peaceful protests like the one planned at BHS are supported by the city school district. Officials declined to be interviewed, but in a statement to the community explained why: "Our students are engaged in critical thinking to empower student voice... This day is not about staff or parents, and the expectation of the District is that parents and staff will be respectful of each students' decision whether or not to participate."

Other schools around the state are also expecting -- and supporting -- student demonstrations. "They care, and it matters to them. And they need to speak up and they need to be heard," said Adam Bunting, Champlain Valley Union High School's Principal. He says teachers are tying in lessons about political protest. "This is an incredibly thoughtful group of young people who, quite frankly, are tired of -- tired of all the drills. I think they're tired of the 'clear the halls.' And I think they're tired of some of that fear, and they're ready to make change."

But the state Agency of Education is less supportive of school walkouts. Secretary Rebecca Holcombe sent two memos to districts in recent weeks. The first said student voices are needed now more than ever, but that "the right to free speech does not extend to disrupting classes (which prevents others from learning), nor to leaving school without permission (which potentially creates a safety threat)."

Then last week Holcombe elaborated, saying: "...if schools have policies that prohibit leaving school buildings or grounds without permission, applying those policies only to some expressions of opinions is a tricky precedent... What if, instead of walking out, students committed to talking it out?"

"I think it's pretty unfortunate," Brown said. She says her Burlington classmates hope their walking will get the conversation beyond just talking, so they can see real action on school safety and gun control. "It's clear in our schools things need to change."

Secretary Holcombe has declined repeated interview requests on the topic.