- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2018

A California student is challenging his school’s double standard on which causes are permissible to protest by calling for a national school walkout against abortion.

Brandon Gillespie, a student at Rocklin High School, announced Thursday that the pro-life walkout will take place on the morning of April 11 and last 17 minutes.

The proposed demonstration mirrors national student walkouts protesting gun violence in the wake of last month’s shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said pro-life students deserve “the same respect and accommodation that anti-gun activists experienced” when they staged a walkout on March 14.

“Having opened to door to student-lead walkouts as a way to express a political or cultural viewpoint, schools cannot shut that door to pro-life students who also are moved by the loss of life and horrific realities of the toll of abortion,” Ms. Hawkins said in a statement.

The idea for the pro-life walkout began when Rocklin High history teacher Julianne Benzel asked her class to think about the politics of student protest.

Like many schools, Rocklin High chose not to punish students who participated in the anti-gun demonstration.

Ms. Benzel asked her class whether students who disagree with the anti-gun activists should be allowed to stage their own walkouts without facing disciplinary measures. What about students who want to protest abortion?

“It’s the best example I thought of at the time,” Ms. Benzel recalled in an interview with a CBS affiliate in Sacramento. “If a group of students nationwide or even locally decided, ‘I want to walk out of school for 17 minutes and go in the quad area and protest abortion,’ would that be allowed by our administration?”

The teacher’s suspicions of a double standard appeared to be confirmed when, following the classroom discussion, she was placed on administrative leave. Rocklin High School said it had received a number of complaints about the conversation from students and parents.

Brandon took his teacher’s question seriously and decided to put her hypothetical to the test.

“I would like to see if there really is a double standard and what will come of that,” he said.

Some of Brandon’s classmates, however, aren’t on board with a pro-life walkout.

Writing in the Rocklin Flash, the high school’s student newspaper, Naeirika Neev said pro-life activism doesn’t belong in the schoolhouse.

“Due to the First Amendment, those who wish to hold protests on abortion, or any other matter, have the freedom to do so,” Naeirika wrote. “However, the controversy of abortions has nothing to do with the school administration or the school environment. Therefore, it is unreasonable for such protest to take place on school ground, during school time and unreasonable to make such comparison.”

Ms. Benzel was allowed to resume teaching the following week after a backlash against the school ensued.

She’s eager to see how Brandon’s walkout plays out.

“If you’re going to allow students to walk up and get out of class without penalty then you have to allow any group of students that wants to protest,” she told CBS Sacramento.

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