When the kids act like adults, the adults push back

The kids of Garretson, S.D., on the Minnesota border, have learned a valuable lesson. Adults may want young adults to be more civically engaged, but they’re mostly lying.

Like students around the country, they were intending to walk out of class on the anniversary of the Columbine shooting next month. That didn’t go over well with school authorities, who worked with students on alternatives. That plan has now been cancelled, the Argus Leader says. The “adults” reaction on Facebook was too intense.

What have the kids learned?

“They learned a lesson that sometimes it is just best to be silent,” high school principal Chris Long said in a letter posted on the school’s website.

The recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and staff has set off a nation-wide movement. The movement titled “Never Again” was started by Parkland survivor, David Hogg, and has gained traction through media and their constant effort to reach the leaders of our country to enact stronger background checks and weapons laws. The group has created and advocated for a “March for our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, D.C. and other locations throughout the country.

Another highly anticipated, national walkout is being planned for April 20th, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and was created by a high school student in Connecticut. This is the event that was brought to the attention of the Garretson School District administration by some local students. They inquired about possible participation. They informed us that the organization’s plan for that date was for students to “walkout” of school at 10 a.m. and sit out the remainder of the day in a peaceful protest.

That wasn’t an option that Garretson High School could support, but these students didn’t start a fight; they didn’t get mad – they asked questions, they were open to suggestions, they didn’t jump to conclusions.

Through discussion, the students were informed that leaving school for any type of extended walkout would result in disciplinary actions according to the handbook. The conversations veered to brainstorming. Instead of a protest that could lead to negative consequences, students were asked to consider using the day to show solidarity and support the victims of the Marjory Stoneman shooting while also advocating our nation’s leaders to find ways to stop the violence in our schools. No agendas, no political platform – just a unified stance saying “Keep Schools Safe”.

Several ideas were discussed and were already in the planning phase – all were to be completely voluntary and optional. After all, we had time, April 20 was over six weeks away.

The ideas included the following, just as a start:

Purchasing school-approved t-shirts with proceeds going to the Parkland victims.

Working with other school districts that have expressed interest in supporting the victims and ending school violence and combining resources to make an even larger impact.

Having a school-approved “walkout” honoring each victim of the Florida shooting where participants could release balloons as a sign of support for the victims of school violence.

Finding ways to incorporate the slogan “Be The Change” where students identify and carry out random acts of kindness for others.

Post-It-Positive where students write positive notes to teachers, fellow students, coaches and/or parents telling them what a positive difference they make.

Include first responders in the “walkout” thanking them for their service and helping make the world a better place – especially when bad things happen.

Our kids were excited!

They were ready to make a difference! They were ready to collaborate! They were ready to listen to others! They were ready to compromise! They were ready to “Make a Difference”!

They worked with administration for a preliminary plan and outline for their event. Regarding the use of 17 minutes – 17 meaningful and purposeful minutes to be heard and to make a positive statement for our future. Those 17 minutes would have been used to spread the message of respect, tolerance, and remembrance. Those that didn’t want to participate would stay in class. Those that did would make up their time at the end of the day – all 17 minutes!

They were too excited.

They hastily disseminated information that had been discussed, but had not been approved. It was information directly from the source of the April 20 walkout, the one they knew the school could not support in its entirety. Information that was inaccurate, information that was inflammatory.

They made a mistake.

Then they learned a tough lesson. A lesson about the monster we call social media. A lesson about how some people can’t wait to pick a fight, throw an insult and tear someone or something down – even before knowing all the facts. There were almost 300 comments on Facebook posts opining about the event despite the facts not yet being presented. I received two emails and one text message by parents who wanted more information. Interesting.

They learned a lesson that commenting back and trying to justify their stance isn’t respected because they are “kids”. They learned a lesson that sometimes it is just best to be silent. Don’t respond, don’t add fuel to the fire. Hopefully they learned the lesson that sometimes it’s better to just say “I disagree” or “no comment”.

The Garretson April 20th Walkout is cancelled – really before it ever had a chance. The students that proposed it originally understand and agree with this decision.

Now that the day that they had hoped for – the day that they hope GHS was going to make a difference – isn’t going to happen, they’ve had a chance to reflect. They realize they had a role in its cancellation. They understand why because they listened, asked questions and were rational. As a supportive community did we do the same for them? Did we listen to their voice? Did we ask questions? Were we rational?

They apologize for their mistakes, they reacted and didn’t follow directions as accurately as they needed to. They gave out information that was not completely accurate, and had not gone through the approval process.

But they too are also owed an apology. They won’t get it from most, but they’ll get it from me. It was clear that they wanted a voice, a chance to be heard. They were willing to do it the right way, but they didn’t get the chance.

This day would have been powerful and effective. I was so looking forward to the opportunity for our students to make a difference. Our kids want to be heard, and we are still going to figure out appropriate ways to help our students with that. They still want to make a difference and “Be the Change” they want to see in our community and society in general.

I’m proud of you, I’m proud of your efforts and I’m proud that you were willing to take that chance. You have my respect.

Mr. Long