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Nevada Students Set To Protest Gun Violence In National Walkout


J. Scott Applewhite/AP

School students from Montgomery County, Md., in suburban Washington, rally in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, at the Capitol in Washington.

Tomorrow is March 14 -- the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

Some students across the country – and in Nevada – are planning to walk out, to add their voices to those demanding more gun control measures like the ones passed in Florida last week.

Will they be punished if they do? 

No - was the simple answer from Mike Barton, the chief student achievement officer at CCSD. He's been advising schools on how to handle the protests.

"Students are not going to be suspended," he said, "I think that was misinformation from the very beginning that there would be suspensions for students."

Barton said the district would not punish students beyond giving them an unexcused absence - if they protest peacefully. They can get that absence changed to an excused absence if a parent approves them being out of class.

"We are definitely as a district honoring that student voice," Barton told KNPR's State of Nevada.

He said the students of Parkland, Florida showed what their voices could accomplish in just a few short weeks. He said the district is actually encouraging students to use their voices as long as it is pre-arranged with their school or teacher.

Many students are expected to participate in different ways Wednesday, including students at Las Vegas Academy downtown.

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Sarah Lieberman is one of the organizers of the walkout at LVA.

She said while some people have said that protesting on school grounds with the principal's approval is not disobedient enough the students are not protesting the school, but powers outside the school.

"We wanted to make it very clear that we weren't rebelling against our school we wanted to work with our school to fight a greater power," she said.

Jake Rouse is also a student at LVA and is helping organize the protest. He said they wanted to work with the administration and stop any rumors about what would happen if students walked out.

Rouse said while some students are holding their rallies or protests within the walls of the school they wanted to make sure they were seen, which is why the rally at LVA will be held outside the school's main building.

"This is not an in-school issue," he said, "This is an entire - not within the city issue - this is an entire country issue," he said.

Local attorney Rob Murdock has advised some students on the best way to hold the rallies without running afoul of the law and their school administration. 

He advised students to talk with their administration and work out a way to peacefully hold a protest without getting anyone into trouble.

Murdock also pushed back against the idea that because the students received pre-approval it wasn't really a "protest."

"It is a protest," he said, "They're leaving class, or where they're supposed to be for 17 minutes. They're making a statement. That is a protest."

Before CCSD clarified its position on students participating in protests, Murdock announced on Twitter that he would help any student who was punished for leaving. 

Some people have pushed back against students here and around the country who have raised their voices for gun control and school safety. But Amy Rose with the ACLU of Southern Nevada reminded everyone that students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they walk into a school.

She said a Supreme Court decision from 1969 answered that question.

"As long as that activity does not cause a material or substantial disruption," she explained, "And that is the legal framework we're looking for."

Rose said if a case did go to court the district would have to prove that the protest met that legal standard. Schools are also not allowed to give out harsher punishments for political protests than an unexcused absence. 

Now that the district is clear on how it would like students to voice their opinions on the issue and students have organized those rallies, what is it they want to say?

Sarah said the message is simple.

"Our goal basically is to set things in motion," she said, "We're speaking to Dean Heller, who accepts money from the NRA. We are speaking to anyone who is against stricter gun legislation. We feel the need to protest for our lives."


Mike Barton, Chief Student Achievement Officer, CCSD; Amy Rose, Legal Director, ACLU of Nevada; Rob Murdock, local attorney who has offered free legal services to kids who face consequences; Tanya Abarico, student Las Vegas Academy; Jake Rouse, student, Las Vegas Academy