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Students stage walkouts to protest gun violence

Therese Gachnauer, center, a senior from Chiles High School, and Kwane Gatlin, right, a senior from Lincoln High School, both in Tallahassee, join fellow students Feb. 21 protesting gun violence on the steps of the old Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida. Today, on the one-month anniversary of the massacre of 17 students and staff members at a Florida high school, students across the country were planning a 17-minute walkout to honor the victims and to call for more efforts to curb gun violence. ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTO

Thousands of Madison Metropolitan School District students plan to walk out of their schools today in order to teach adults a lesson about the need for sensible gun control in Wisconsin and across the country. Along with students from across the country, they will raise a fundamental question: Why have the adults who have been placed in positions of authority failed to keep children safe from gun violence?

In some senses, this is a rhetorical question. Even young children understand the blatantly obvious reality that this has everything to do with campaign money and campaign strategies. Immoral politicians like Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel occupy law enforcement positions not with a sense of duty to protect and serve but with a determination to do the bidding of the National Rifle Association and other front groups for gun manufacturers.

On his second full day as attorney general, Schimel met privately in his office with the top lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which had played a critical role in organizing his election in 2014. Schimel was pledging allegiance to the NRA, not in some formal ceremony but in the backroom where the political process is invariably corrupted. That corruption was confirmed in February when the attorney general embraced a demented proposal to respond to gun violence by arming teachers.

Schimel’s shameful dereliction of duty — which extends far beyond the gun issue — results from the fact that he listens to campaign donors and political cronies rather than teachers and students and serious law enforcement officers.

Schimel really is one of the worst, but, truthfully, few politicians of either party do a good job of responding to the real-world experiences of young people. That’s why it is so important that students amplify their voices by marching and rallying and petitioning for an honest response to the gun violence that has plagued schools for years but that has come into focus since 17 students and teachers and staffers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were murdered last month by a gunman who assaulted the school with an AR-15-style rifle.

The courageous survivors of the Parkland violence have refused to let politicians in Florida or nationally off the hook. They have inspired students across the country to do the same. That’s why students in Madison and surrounding communities are planning to recognize the 17 victims from of the Parkland massacre by walking out of school for 17 minutes ‪at 10 a.m‬ today.

We support the students, and we hope that teachers, principals and administrators here and elsewhere recognize the importance of teaching this lesson about the value of our constitutional right to assemble in protest and to petition for the redress of grievances.

MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said she and her fellow administrations are “proud of the young people, both locally and nationally, who have been raising their voices recently about gun control and their right to be safe at school.”

So are we.

But that pride must be linked with action on the part of adults who want to make sure that the voices of students are heard. There are different ways to do this, of course. But at The Capital Times we plan not merely to call out the tragic political careerists, like Schimel, who barter off their consciences to the gun manufacturers, but to celebrate those elected leaders and candidates who are listening to the students — and to common sense.

We’ll begin with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, a career educator, who made some news recently when he declared: “Instead of acting to reduce gun violence, Republicans want to give guns to teachers. As a lifelong educator, I can say without any hesitation that I’d rather go to jail than arm teachers in our schools.”

Evers, the leading Democratic contender for governor in recent polls, is the opposite of Schimel. He cares enough about ending gun violence to listen to those who are speaking up — and to speak up himself. But he does not stop there.

He is using his position, as the state’s top education official, to address the threats facing our schools in smart, effective ways.

Last week, Evers presented a comprehensive plan for addressing school safety to Gov. Scott Walker and legislative leaders. Evers asked Walker to renew the flexibility of school districts to raise property taxes outside of their state-imposed revenue limits in order to pay for more guards, security cameras and infrastructure improvements to secure schools.

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Evers proposed to increase school funding by $25 million to pay for mental health staff and training, and he’d like to see another $25 million go to programs to address school climate and violence issues.

Evers is calling for a special legislative session to get moving on these issues.

We like his sense of urgency. It mirrors that of the students.

“The education community developed these items in response to the troubling trend of gun violence that has come to school doors across Wisconsin and the nation,” Evers wrote in his letter to Walker and legislative leaders. “Our children deserve to feel safe and supported at school. While our kids can lead the conversation, policymakers must be the ones to enact change.”

Tony Evers understands that political officials should listen to the students, and that they must act on behalf of these wise, brave young people to right the policies of Wisconsin and America.

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