A group of parents from New Milford, Connecticut has hired an attorney to articulate their concerns about the decision by their school district to allow students to participate in the national student walkout held Wednesday to advocate for gun control.
In an email sent to Breitbart News, the parents – who wish to remain anonymous – argue the student walkout might appear to be a fairly innocuous First Amendment event to honor the students killed in the Parkland, Florida, shooting and to advocate for gun control.
However, the parents add, the decision involves issues concerning “adherence to law and policy, the manipulation of minors, the misuse of tax dollars, and indoctrination and political activism during school hours.”
They are especially concerned the student walkouts were organized by the Women’s March, an anti-Trump organization with ties to radical anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan.
In an interview with Breitbart News, the parents’ attorney, Deborah Stevenson – with expertise in constitutional and education law – spoke about the parents’ issues with their school district’s decision to allow students to participate in the walkout.
On March 12, Stevenson sent a letter to the New Milford Board of Education, superintendent Joshua D. Smith, and New Milford High School principal Greg P. Shugrue – which she made available to Breitbart News. Stevenson wrote:
My clients have asked me to notify you that this event violates state law, on the basis that state and local public funds are being used improperly to advocate for a political issue and to influence how voters will vote. Because it violates state law, we demand that the New Milford Public School District’s Superintendent and Board of Education immediately cancel the event, and rescind any association or prior involvement in it.
In addition to citing the Women’s March Network or Women’s March Youth Empower as an organizer of the student walkouts, Stevenson added that “the event is promoted by the Action Network, which touts itself as ‘an open platform that empowers individuals and groups to organize for progressive causes.’”
“Thus, it is promoting the event for partisan political purposes, to influence voters to one side of an issue currently before members of the public,” she wrote. “This event is not simply a ‘student initiated remembrance.’ It is an event aimed at engaging students in a political ‘movement’ to affect ‘change’ and to encourage them to vote for that ‘change.’”
On Wednesday, Michael P. McKeon, attorney for the school district, wrote to Stevenson, in a reply that was made available to Breitbart News, that the school board “has absolutely no connection with” the Women’s March Network and the Action Network.
“To the extent that either group has referenced the New Milford Public Schools on their websites or in any other manner, that is neither at the behest of nor with the consent of the Board,” McKeon argued, adding:
Furthermore, the mere fact that some outside organization unilaterally or in cooperation with some third party over whom the Board has no control lists, cites, or otherwise references the Board does not transform the Board into its agent or representative, nor does it impute to the Board any perspectives, philosophies, or political agendas such organization might have.
McKeon further asserted that, as Smith and Shugrue indicated in a letter to parents, “Students at NMHS have indicated that they too want to make a statement and be a part of the movement.”
In the letter, made available as well to Breitbart News, Smith and Shugrue wrote that the district’s middle school students “also expressed an interest in participating in the broader conversation,” and would have a “grade appropriate, optional opportunity that focuses on civic participation.”
“Clearly, this morning’s activity is student initiated and student driven,” McKeon said, dismissing all of the parents’ issues.
Stevenson, however, told Breitbart News that Connecticut, and likely many other states, has statutes pertaining to the use of taxpayer dollars to fund political protests. She said it “defies logic” how McKeon “can make an argument that the walkout is not connected to a partisan or political issue.”
Breitbart News asked whether school districts could be faced with further litigation if they do not allow students who wish to hold walkouts for other causes to do so.
“That’s absolutely a valid concern,” she said. “There are equal protection laws as well, and if you are allowing one group to have free speech on your campus for a partisan purpose, then, obviously, it’s discriminatory not to allow an opposing point of view. So, it absolutely does open up the school districts to litigation and all sorts of other problems.”
Stevenson said there are many ways allowing students to participate in a politically charged protest during school time harms students and the climate of the school itself.
“It’s one thing to teach civics and to teach history and to teach current events,” Stevenson explained. “But it’s another thing to encourage minors, whose maturity level is not that of an adult, to take a position one way or another.” Stevenson continued:
The idea of instruction in the schools I would think would be to assist students in critical thinking on both sides of an issue. If they’re going to be doing that, then that, I believe, would be in line with education. If they are simply instructing on one position, and one point of view, then I don’t think that even the school districts or the boards of education running them would believe that that is appropriate.
Stevenson said the parents who have hired her also have “a basic objection to their children being exploited or used because of an emotional issue.” She explained:
Obviously, no one wants to have their children harmed. And it is a tragic event any time a child is harmed or killed. But, it’s more along the lines of media attention and using children. We have laws against exploiting children for any purpose. It’s right in our Connecticut law and I’m sure other states have similar laws. That is what the issue is for many parents.
Stevenson noted that Smith and Shugrue stated in their letter that “For students who do not wish to participate in this movement, an alternate location will be provided.”
“You have the official position of a public school saying, ‘We will allow these students to take this protest – we will encourage it, supervise it, facilitate it, and use taxpayer funds to do this – and those children who do not want to participate, ‘Well, we’ll have an alternative location for them to be,’” Stevenson asserted.
“Now, if you’re in that public school, and you’re a child in that public school, what is the pressure on you to participate with those others who are going outside, or to be ostracized in an alternative location, and, then, perhaps bullied later: ‘Why didn’t you participate with our march? We were all out there,’” she explained. “So, I think that creates a climate where children are endangered of being ostracized, alienated, and bullied unnecessarily. And this is something that is supported by the public school board and district staff.”
Stevenson said the issues the parents have is “a matter of the rule of law.” She asked:
Are you going to collectively decide what the law is and follow it, or are you going to take a very emotional issue and take advantage of anyone – children or anyone – to advocate for your position on an issue? To take that kind of an emotional issue, and advocate, and not follow the law while you’re doing it, and use taxpayer dollars to fund your decision to do that is just wrong.
Principal Shugrue did not immediately respond to Breitbart News’s request for comment on the parents’ concerns.