Ann Arbor school board supports students in protesting gun violence

Thursday, February 22, 2018 - 7:17pm

This Wednesday, hundreds of Ann Arbor high school students joined the scores of teenagers participating in national walkouts to protest gun violence in the wake of the Feb. 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that killed 14 students and faculty members in Parkland, Fla.

According to MLive, the Ann Arbor School Board is working to support students in the fight to secure the safety of their local schools. The district's response contrasts with other national reactions, including Needville Independent School District near Houston whose superintendent threatened a three-day suspension for any student who participated in a walkout.

Jeanice Swift, superintendent of Ann Arbor Public Schools, has for years worked to maintain weapon-free school zones and mental health support systems throughout the school district to protect students. At a school board meeting Wednesday, Swift applauded students’ peaceful efforts to voice their concern regarding school safety.

“Let me be clear, the presence of a weapon or a gun in school runs contrary to everything we are wired to do in education for children,” Swift said. “We believe it is counterproductive to maintaining a rich, productive and healthy learning environment for our children every day in school.”

In some cases, the student walkouts infringed on classroom instructional time for students. Board Vice President Susan Baskett said she wanted the efforts to be collaborative between students, teachers and supervisors, because she disapproved of losing time in class.

“To our students, let us help you take action with a purpose. … Don't be dismissive of us,” Baskett said. “Again, we don't want to lead this because, truly, I think the most effective body in this work will be the young people themselves.”

Board Trustee Jessica Kelly considered the incident in Parkland a “tipping point.” She welcomed ideas on better ways to support students in the fight for school safety and gun control.

The walkouts on Wednesday also called into question students’ First Amendment rights in a school setting. According to Ann Arbor Public Schools’ policy, as referenced by Swift, students’ may express their opinions without disrupting normal school routine.

Board Secretary Jeff Gaynor said during the meeting it is the job of educators to support students without undercutting their message.

“We as educators, it's our responsibility to help them define the issue, refine the issue,” Gaynor said.

Emma Roth, a senior at Pioneer High School and an organizer of the walkout, said she was grateful the board was supporting students and feels there is momentum for students to push for change. Roth is optimistic in seeing a change, especially with the power in the hands of students.

“It makes me really, really happy that (the school board members) are behind us right now,” Roth said to MLive. “I think students are the voice we need right now. It feels almost like passing a torch.”