Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Thursday that students who walk out of Memphis schools next month to protest gun violence will not be punished.
He also invited student organizers of the April 20 demonstration to speak April 24 to the Board of Education for Shelby County Schools “so our community can hear from these wonderful, thoughtful students.”
Hopson met Wednesday with about a dozen student leaders from district high schools, including White Station, Ridgeway, Central, and Whitehaven and Freedom Preparatory Academy.
“Based on this incredible presentation, I have agreed to be supportive of the walkout, as long as it’s done in an orderly fashion and as long as we work some of the details out,” Hopson said after the meeting.
“No students will be suspended or expelled for taking part in this event. No teachers will be disciplined for being supportive of these students,” he said.
At least six Memphis-area high schools are planning student walkouts on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 students and wounded 20 others in Littleton, Colorado.
Shelby County students did not participate in the March 14 nationwide walkout because Shelby County Schools and other local districts were on spring break. That walkout, which was held on the one-month anniversary of a shooting in Parkland, Florida, pushed for stricter gun laws and memorialized the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The April 20 walkout is part of a related nationwide “day of action” that encourages school events focused on pushing policy changes to reduce gun violence.
Hopson’s declarations put to rest concerns that students might be punished for trying to exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech while the district also seeks to ensure school safety. Earlier this month, school districts in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, and New Jersey threatened students with unexcused absences, detention, and disciplinary action if they participated in the March 14 walkout.
Most of the student organizers in Memphis are involved in BRIDGES, a program that brings students together across racial and socio-economic divides to discuss civic issues.
Hopson called their walkout plan “one of the most amazing presentations I’ve ever seen.”
Just finished meeting with an AMAZING group of students who advocated passionately for an orderly student protest against gun violence. pic.twitter.com/imK0UpOVcg— Dorsey Hopson, II (@dorseyhopson) March 21, 2018