High school students held a nationwide “walkout” protest against gun violence on 14 March 2018, exactly one month after a school shooter in Parkland, Florida killed seventeen people, igniting a national debate that drew international attention.
The protest, in which young people demanding stricter gun control legislation left their classrooms en masse at 10 A.M. for seventeen minutes — one minute for each person killed during the 14 February 2018 mass shooting — attracted significant media attention, as well as scrutiny and criticism from those opposed to more aggressive gun control.
One video, shared widely on Facebook, appears to show a dispute between a teacher and a student at one high school. The person who posted the video, Kenny MacDonald, claims be a student of New Prague High School, 50 miles southwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota; he says the incident involved the principal of the school “escorting” a student off school property for apparently engaging in a counterprotest and holding a placard that read “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” The video was viewed more than 2 million times within a day:
In a statement on 15 March 2018, the New Prague Area Schools District site confirmed that there had been an incident involving a student holding a placard, but did not make it clear whether the older man in the video was, in fact, the principal of New Prague High School:
Yesterday approximately 100 of our high school students participated in a walkout, as did many of their peers across the country. The walkout was conducted peacefully and without conflict. Since then, attention has been focused on a sign that was present during the walkout.
The District has a policy that such items must be submitted to and reviewed by school administration at least 24-hours in advance. In compliance with the District’s policy “… to protect the exercise of students’ and employees’ free speech rights, [while] taking into consideration the educational objectives and responsibilities of the School District,” the sign was moved to non-school grounds. The District has an obligation to enforce this policy without regard to political viewpoint.
No student was disciplined and law enforcement was not involved with any of the students present during the walkout.
While the school district stated that the sign was “moved to non-school grounds,” it did not specify whether the person holding the sign was also escorted or removed from school property. School authorities also noted that law enforcement did not become involved in the incident, but did not specify whether the older man shown in the video at any time threatened to call the police.
The New Prague Area School District does indeed have a policy which requires that any “non-school sponsored material” to be displayed on campus must be submitted to the principal for approval, 24 hours ahead of time. Section 6 of the district’s Policy 505 states:
Any student or employee wishing to distribute (as defined in this policy) non-school sponsored material must first submit for approval a copy of the material to the principal at least 24 hours in advance of desired distribution time, together with the following information:
1. Name and phone number of the person submitting the request and, if a student, the room number of his or her first-period class.
2. Date(s) and time(s) of day intended display or distribution.
3. Location where material will be displayed or distributed;
4. If intended for students, the grade(s) of students to whom the display or distribution is intended.
At one point in the video posted to Facebook, there is an exchange in which the older man appears to invoke “Policy 505,” although the video is so truncated that the context is unclear.
Younger man: …No you don’t
Older man: Yeah we do. Policy 505 —
Younger man: Supreme Court —
Older man: 505…[inaudible]
There was an incident on the campus of New Prague High School in Minnesota, during the national walkout protest against gun violence on 14 March 2018, and a pro-gun rights sign was, according to school authorities, removed from the school’s property.
However, it is not clear whether the school’s principal escorted the student who held the sign off campus, nor whether the principal threatened to call the police on that student. So far, we have not seen any evidence to support those claims, other than the testimony of the person who posted the video to Facebook.
Finally, we have seen no evidence that the sign was targeted for removal specifically because it contained a pro-gun rights message. The New Prague School District has specifically stated that the sign was removed “without regard to political viewpoint,” and because it was not submitted for approval in advance of the demonstration, which is a violation of school district policy.
We asked the school district for more details but have not yet heard back.