(Updated at 3 p.m.) With more school walkouts planned, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy is drawing the line on excused absences for student protests
Murphy sent an email to parents today, following a walkout by high school students last week to protest gun violence and gun policies. Murphy said APS will allow and grant excused absences for another national walkout planned for March 14, but will mark unexcused any student who walks out for the entire day on April 20, as apparently is being planned, without parental permission in advance.
“While we cannot condone weekly or even monthly occurrences like this, we try to encourage our students’ interest in expressing their ideas and opinions,” Murphy wrote. “Therefore, our secondary schools will support students’ participation in a brief national walkout on March 14, to allow them this one additional time to convey their feelings on school property and without greatly disrupting the school day.”
One parent noted to ARLnow.com that “some students and parents are opting to peacefully protest these walkout days by not going to school that day at all.”
The full letter from Dr. Murphy is below.
Dear APS Families,
Last week, many of our secondary students, in support of their student peers in Florida and throughout the nation, participated in a lunchtime “walkout” to peacefully protest the violence that has occurred in many schools across our nation. School staff and principals learned about these walkouts in advance and provided the students an opportunity to express their views. For the most part, each school’s walkout was very respectful and lasted about 20-30 minutes.
As you may have read or heard, students are calling for a similar, 17-minute national school walkout on Wed, March 14 at 10 a.m., which will mark the one-month anniversary of the tragic shootings that took place at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. As educators, part of our role is to help teach our students how to actively engage in civic conversations and the importance of being engaged in our democratic process. This happens in many ways – by voting; by writing to or speaking with elected leaders; by joining organizations that hold and advocate for similar ideas or beliefs; and, at times, by participating in peaceful and respectful demonstrations.
While we cannot condone weekly or even monthly occurrences like this, we try to encourage our students’ interest in expressing their ideas and opinions. We have also observed that this response does not reflect any one group’s opinion – its focus has been nonpartisan among students. Therefore, our secondary schools will support students’ participation in a brief national walkout on March 14, to allow them this one additional time to convey their feelings on school property and without greatly disrupting the school day. Students who participate will not be penalized for taking part in their school’s brief demonstration, and we will work to ensure that any students who are not interested in participating will not be pressured to do so.
The event will also allow students to honor the 17 lives lost in Florida as well as the other children and school staff who have been senselessly lost through similar events at other schools. This decision is in keeping with the moment of silence and other commemorations that all APS schools participated in and our community observed immediately after the events of September 11.
We believe that March 14 will present a minimal interruption to our instructional day; however, we also have heard that students are being encouraged to participate in another walkout on April 20 in the morning which includes not returning to school for the remainder of the day. In that case, students would be marked with an unexcused absence unless parents provide written permission in advance of the 20th. We believe that the event in D.C. on Saturday, March 24, will provide ample opportunity for students to participate in a Walk and to exercise their beliefs about gun control without interfering with their responsibility to school and their classroom work.
Finally, some of our families have asked about the involvement of our elementary schools. Elementary principals and teachers will find ways to be responsive to students that are age-appropriate and suitable for their interest in the topic.
If you have questions, I encourage you to speak with your school’s principal.
Patrick K. Murphy, Ed.D.