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On March 8, the Corvallis School Board will consider whether to formally support a walkout being planned by our high school students in protest of gun violence. The board should not support this — or any — student protest.

I admire our students’ passion and agree with their cause. Truthfully, I have given up on hoping adults will solve the scourge of gun violence in this country and instead place my faith in our youth. We need their passion, their political action, and their protest. But our support shouldn’t come in the form of a public school district endorsing a particular political stance, essentially turning a student-led protest into an officially sanctioned school function.

It is entirely appropriate for our community to show solidarity with our neighbors across the country who have suffered from gun violence. However, we must acknowledge that the protests we are seeing are also about advocating political solutions to gun violence.

I, and many in our community, would welcome stricter gun laws. But not everyone shares my specific views of reform and some think none is needed at all. How does a student feel if she, being a lifelong National Rifle Association member, hears that her school is encouraging a protest that she views as being at odds with her core beliefs? Is her participation in the walkout compulsory? Does she join her classmates and teachers or remain behind as one of the “insensitive” few?

More fundamentally, by supporting a student protest, the district will undercut our students’ civic engagement by diminishing the power of their protest. A protest is only a protest if it is disruptive, if it causes authority figures some discomfort. Protests are supposed to break rules and protesters who choose to break those rules must face, at the very least, the possibility of consequences.

That’s how protests work. Student who care enough about something to walk out do so knowing that they’ll miss a quiz, or a lesson, or lose attendance points. That’s the sacrifice they’re willing to make in support of their cause, and we, as the authority figures, need to be willing to hold up our part of the bargain. When one of my daughters is old enough to protest something she believes in, my heart will swell with pride even as I angrily pick her up from detention for walking out of class.

Of course, I’m not advocating that we suspend the students who walk out. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t officially approve of it, even if we agree with them.

The schools, knowing the walkout is planned, should take the minimal steps needed to assure the safety of those students who choose to walk out, but by and large, they should continue their day as planned. If the board, teachers, and administrators want to stand side-by-side with students in support of gun reform, they should do it at the Corvallis March for Life later this month. But not during school hours and not as an official school function.

Christopher Viggiani is a scientist, policymaker, and currently an administrator at Oregon State University. He worked on federal science policy at the National Institutes of Health, in Washington, D.C. He moved to Corvallis with his family last year. 


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