As students across the country walked out of class on Wednesday in response to the Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 students and teachers dead last week, one school district made clear it didn't want to see that kind of protest. The superintendent of Needville Independent School District (ISD) in Texas threatened that students will be suspended if they walk out to make a statement about gun violence, "no matter if it is one, fifty, or five hundred students involved."
"Please be advised that the Needville ISD will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness!!" superintendent Curtis Rhodes wrote in a letter that was sent to parents and posted to Facebook on Tuesday. Rhodes warned students that they will be suspended for three days if they participate in any sort of walkout or protest. "A school is a place to learn and grow educationally, emotionally and morally," the note read. "A disruption of the school will not be tolerated."
The shooting that took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School just one week ago sparked massive organizing among survivors and other teenage activists who demand that lawmakers in Florida and Congress do more to protect student's lives. Rhode's warning came a day before middle school and high school students in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, New Jersey, and Ohio staged walk outs in support of stricter gun laws.
Teenagers began walking out of class to protest gun violence on Friday, when students from Broward County high school — a few miles away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High — stood outside holding signs with messages including "We stand with Stoneman Douglas." A group called Student Walkout Against Gun Violence subsequently organized Wednesday's national demonstration, and another walk out is expected to take place April 20.
Students across the nation have rallied behind the Stoneman Douglas survivors who are refusing to go back to school until lawmakers make real progress toward gun reform. Survivors will lead a March For Our Lives rally on March 24 in Washington, D.C. and other cities across the country "to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today," according to the event's website.
Survivors also headed to Tallahassee to confront lawmakers face to face, chanting "vote them out" outside the Florida capitol on Wednesday. The day before, the Florida legislature voted not to consider a bill that would have banned many semiautomatic guns and large capacity magazines. "That's unacceptable," Spencer Blum, a Stoneman Douglas student, told CNN after the vote. "It shows that they don't care about us."
The Needville superintendent recognized the movement of gun control demonstrations taking place across the country, and said the school district is "very sensitive to violence in schools including the recent incident in Florida." However, Rhodes doesn't believe school is the place to take a stand against gun violence. "Respect yourself, your fellow students and the Needville Independent School District and please understand that we are here for an education and not a political protest," his letter read.
Stoneman Douglas students, on the other hand, think drastic action needs to be taken to stop more students from dying. "How are we supposed to know and feel safe in those exact hallways where the shooting happened if nothing changes?" he asked in an interview with The Washington Post. "If these laws caused the shooting in the first place, what’s going to stop (another shooting) if the laws don’t change?"
If that means walking out of class, or not returning to school until lawmakers pass gun control legislation, they're going to do it.