In Memo, Vermont Ed Secretary Discourages Student Walkouts | Off Message

In Memo, Vermont Ed Secretary Discourages Student Walkouts


Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Education Secretary Rebecca Holcombe
In a letter to Vermont school administrators last week, Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe praised student activism but sought to dissuade participation in upcoming school protests.

Students and teachers across the country are planning a 17-minute walkout on March 14 to honor the 17 victims of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and to call for new gun laws.

Holcombe opened her memo by declaring support for students’ right to free speech, but she went on to caution that it "does not extend to disrupting classes (which prevents others from learning), nor to leaving school without permission (which potentially creates a safety threat)."

"We are in an extraordinary moment of history, and more than ever, our children need the skills of citizenship, so they can lead strong communities for the next generation," she wrote. "However, this also means teaching them to do so in ways that are not disruptive to the rights of others and in ways that model the skills of democracy."

The secretary urged administrators to find another way for students to express themselves, such as holding a school-wide assembly. "I encourage you to work with your students and support civil and peaceful opportunities for student expression and student voice, while holding all members of your community to your codes of behavior," she wrote.

In an interview, Holcombe said she sent the memo because, "My job is to try to do everything I can to maintain a safe and orderly environment [in schools]." She made the case that walkouts raised safety concerns because "obviously it's difficult for administrators to maintain and ensure the safety of kids if they don’t know where they are."

School administrators nationwide are grappling with how to handle student protests in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting; some have accommodated walkouts, while others have disciplined student participants.