Atlanta Has Always Embraced Peaceful Civic Engagement (and so will APS)

On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 14, 2018, our country watched in shock (again) as we learned the horrifying details of a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida. It happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — part of the Broward County Public School District — where, tragically, 17 students and staff lost their lives, and more than a dozen were seriously injured at the hands of a lone gunman. This day marked yet another senseless and devastating act of violence in our schools, sparking national outrage and debate about school safety and gun violence.

For us at Atlanta Public Schools and for so many other school districts around the country, this tragedy hits home and strikes at the core of everything about which we care. We believe our schools should be safe places for students to learn, explore, and engage in the world around them and for educators to teach and inspire. The safety and security of our students and staff is our top priority and it’s something we take very seriously.

As many of you may know, on March 14, 2018, one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, organizers around the country are calling for a National School Walkout at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to protest government inaction on violence in schools and neighborhoods. You may have seen information on social media and on websites encouraging students, teachers, and their allies around the country to organize on that day, preferably a walkout, and demand that Congress take legislative action on keeping schools safe.

As the birthplace and school district of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Atlanta Public Schools takes seriously our responsibility to prepare our students to succeed beyond high school and to help them become well-rounded individuals equipped with the knowledge and tools necessary for actively engaging in society. And, as someone who was born and raised in Selma, Alabama, I have a personal appreciation and respect for the impact civic engagement can have on social change.

To support student engagement around a national dialogue on National School Walkout Day, our schools will work with our students on these issues and work with student leaders to develop a structured plan that will be implemented during that 17-minute timeframe. Some schools are already getting prepared for the learning experience!

I’m excited that our Teaching & Learning team is preparing age-appropriate, recommended instructional activities to support teachers’ efforts in facilitating this conversation around civic engagement and social responsibility.

It’s important that I emphasize here that any participation in any student-led protests or demonstration on March 14th at 10 a.m. is optional and we’re limiting the grade level to secondary schools. More information will be provided to our families closer to the date.

We are proactively communicating with students about the guidelines that will be in place around their participation in the non-disruptive activities (e.g. once the 17-minute activity is complete, instruction must resume and students who choose to go outside those expectations will be considered in violation of our discipline code).  It is also important for students to remember that disruptive “walkouts” are against district policy, and any student led demonstrations that have not received prior approval will result in disciplinary consequences.  Said simply, while we support peaceful organized protesting that is school sanctioned (with prior approval), we do not support disruption of school or obstruction of the school district’s mission, process or function as explained in board policy.

APS is focused on graduating every student ready for college and career. But, at the same time, we know that for our students to succeed, they must also be able to engage in the world around them. We believe that by creating opportunities for safe, structured, student-led civic engagement around a national dialogue such as this one, we are ultimately helping our students develop social and emotional learning skills and be informed residents in our democracy.