Montgomery Students Join D.C. Rally for Tighter Gun Laws

Classroom walkouts have prompted schools to discuss policy on civic activism

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An estimated 2,000 students, including several hundred from Montgomery County, gathered outside the White House Thursday morning to demand stricter gun control measures.

Caitlynn Peetz photo

WASHINGTON — Several thousand of high school students – including hundreds from Montgomery County – rallied outside the White House Thursday morning and demanded tighter gun-control legislation.

“We’re doing this because we have to because we have to save our own lives,” said Dani Miller, a Winston Churchill High School student and a co-founder of the group Students for Change, which supports federal universal background checks for gun buyers and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

“We won’t stop being in their face until they listen,” said Miller, a senior at the Potomac school, while on the way to the rally.  “We don’t have enough black to go to all these funerals we have to go to for our friends.”

Thursday’s rally comes one year after about 3,000Montgomery students staged a walkout from classes following deadly shootings at schools in Southern Maryland and Florida.

“We are expecting to have a big turnout of students who want change and want to send the message we’re gonna get it,” said Ethan Greenstein, a senior at Churchill.  “We’ve seen throughout history we have to do things that aren’t necessarily the norm to make change happen.”

Students from Montgomery County took Metrorail and carpools to the rally and the local group arranged to rent buses for students at schools that were not near public transit lines.

The school system does not support or sponsor the event, citing liability issues that arise when students leave campus during the school day, and participants will be given an unexcused absence and their parents notified, a spokesman said.

School Superintendent Jack Smith issued a statement last week about the walkout, similar to the one he made a year ago, saying he supports student activism that is not during instruction time. In his message, Smith said students who do not leave school grounds will be provided “an opportunity to express their views while remaining safe on campus.”

“While we support student advocacy and are proud of students when they speak out for what they believe in, we want students who wish to engage in the civic process during school hours to do so while at school, in a supportive and safe learning environment,” Smith wrote.

“As I have shared previously, leaving school property can disrupt instruction for other students and pose a significant safety risk,” Smith wrote. “MCPS does not have the staff or resources to ensure students are safe during the school day when they are not on a school campus.”

Last year’s walkout sparked lengthy debates from top school officials about the system’s policy about activism and political engagement.

The school board has been discussing the policy with proposed amendments that would allow up to three excused absences each school year to participate in civic activities, such as protests and lobbying. The discussion has stalled as board members debate how many absences students should be granted.

For Thursday’s rally, nearly $7,000 has been pledged on an online fundraising website to rent buses for participants whose schools are not near public transportation, according to the web page.

The focus of the walkout is centering around national legislation that advanced from the House last month that would require universal background checks for gun purchases – one of the group’s demands in the last walkout, which was a smaller part of a nationwide demonstration. The bill is not expected to pass the Republican-majority Senate, and President Donald Trump has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

This story will be updated

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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