Last month, 100,000 students streamed out of city classrooms to protest gun violence, demonstrations condoned by the mayor and education department officials.
Similar but scaled-down protests are being planned for Friday, but with a major difference — students are more likely to face consequences for walking out of their classes this time.
For the March 14 walkout, held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17, city education department officials laid out clear rules meant to facilitate student participation. Anyone who left school for the scheduled protest but returned immediately afterward would not be marked absent.
This week, students who are not in school will be marked absent, according to the education department.
At his first town hall meeting with students, Chancellor Richard Carranza implored them not to walk out of class this week.
“I supported it in March,” he said. “This one — I don’t think it’s the same thing.”
Instead, Carranza said, students should focus on having conversations about the issue inside their schools. “You don’t have to be out of school all day to make your voices known. You’ve already made your voices known.”
The department’s revised approach comes as activists planning the day of action worry that focus on gun control policy is diminishing as the Parkland shooting recedes into the past. That shooting has inspired a sustained protest movement led largely by students, but other topics have pushed it out of headlines in recent weeks.
Indeed, advocates are expecting a smaller turnout this time around, with about a dozen New York City schools registered on the national organizing page — including Bard High School Early College Queens and Stuyvesant High School.
One of the biggest demonstrations is expected to be an afternoon rally at Washington Square park, but other schools are opting for a day of action within their own buildings — and some students say they are prioritizing other ways of making a difference.
“We will be hosting a lunch and learn and creating kindness cards,” Urban Assembly School for Criminal Justice junior Robina Afzal said in an email. “We don’t feel the walkouts are most effective. Instead we can stay in school and create a change.”
PHOTO: Courtesy photo/P.S. 261
Fifth-grade students at P.S. 261 in Brooklyn are planning to walk out of school on April 20, marking the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. They will head to borough hall and deliver letters to their local U.S. representative calling for stricter gun control laws.
At M.S. 51 in Brooklyn, students will take part in a day of assemblies where they will write letters to elected officials to demand action on issues that are important to young people.
“We want to balance our walkout and take real action that might influence policy-makers, rather than making another powerful public statement,” according to a press release sent by the middle school students there.
P.S. 261 in Brooklyn is one of the few elementary schools expected to participate on Friday. The fifth grade students have assigned themselves organizing tasks, with separate working groups dedicated to poster-making, writing original freedom songs, and even a media team. They plan to march to Borough Hall, where students will stand in a circle, sing, and chant to draw attention to young lives lost to gun violence every day across the United States.
“I think we should do it outside of the school because more people can see us walking out, because this is very important,” said Bayan Clark, a fifth-grader who is helping to organize the event. “Kids get shot every single day and it’s not just in school. It’s also outside.”
Principal Jackie Allen said such social actions are woven into the school’s teaching and learning.
When Trayvon Martin was killed in Florida, students wore black armbands in solidarity with protesters who drew attention to racial profiling and bias. When President Trump proposed an immigration ban on majority-Muslim countries, they marched around their school and created posters to signal that everyone is welcome at P.S. 261.
Ever since the Parkland shooting, students have been tackling issues around gun violence, writing letters to local elected representatives and making connections to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We try to make sure the curriculum is relevant,” Allen said. “What’s happening in the world, it does make our way into the classrooms and kids want to talk about it.”
“We want to reflect democratic values,” she said. “We want kids to take social action and develop social awareness.”