Students in Arkansas hit with detention for participating in walkout

Summerlin Hutson (Photo: Facebook/Nathan Bunch)
Summerlin Hutson (Photo: Facebook/Nathan Bunch)

Thousands of students nationwide participated in a walkout Wednesday honoring those who were killed during the shooting that took place last month in Parkland, Fla. While many students were applauded for their efforts, others are facing in-school suspensions, unexcused absences, and detention for participating.

The 17-minute school walkout was designed to honor the 17 individuals who were killed when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla, on Feb. 14. The shooting, which claimed the lives of students and faculty, rattled not only those who survived the massacre but the nation that watched it from afar.

In its aftermath, survivors have galvanized a movement on Twitter, Facebook, and in person, calling on lawmakers to enforce stricter gun control laws. The walkout, in addition to being a memorial, was meant to raise awareness about gun violence nationwide. But for some school leaders, students who participated in the walkout were seen as disruptive and deserving of punishment.

One such student is Summerlin Hutson, a senior at Bentonville West High School in northern Arkansas, who received an in-school suspension Tuesday for handing out flyers informing students about the event. Undeterred by the punishment, Hutson participated in the walkout on Wednesday morning, carrying a megaphone to spread the message of nonviolence to her peers. She will now serve suspension Thursday and Friday for her actions.

Hutson, who is set to attend the University of Arkansas in the fall, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she was in contact with school administrators about the walkout from the start. “They showed nothing but resistance,” Hutson says. “They were vocal about wanting to not be ‘supportive’ of it.”

 

 

Although the 18-year-old says the school’s stance on the walkout was clear, they ultimately cracked down on her for passing out a flyer on Monday without giving three full school days for administration to review it — which is one of the rules. According to Hutson, she showed them the flyer on Thursday, which did not give them the required amount of time. When she told the administrators that it was time-sensitive, they didn’t agree to approve it quickly.

While the three-day rule is in place, Hutson says it’s one that is often not followed — and people who break it are rarely punished. In this case, it was. “My principal actually called me out of class on Monday to tell me he was disappointed with me for doing it,” Hutson says. “He asked me to stop handing them out to avoid punishment, and I told him I would think about it but not promise anything.”

Hutson says after the talk with her principal, she didn’t continue to hand out the flyers, but it was already too late. “I got a note from our dean, who called me into the office and told me I would be suspended for two days for insubordination,” says Hutson. “I have never seen any sort of disciplinary action taken against [flyers] before. Their response is excessive.”

During an in-school suspension, students are not allowed to attend class, eat lunch with their peers, or interact with anyone outside gthe suspension room. Hutson sees it as a direct violation of her rights. “It is my belief that my school administration is censoring the information I am putting out there based on their personal beliefs,” she says. “I am being punished.”

The punishment didn’t dissuade the Arkansas senior from continuing her work. On Wednesday, she marched alongside hundreds of classmates holding brightly colored signs with slogans such as, “Enough is enough.” The decision to move forward came with a punishment all its own — one that was decided upon in a board meeting held last week to discuss the march. After debate from both sides, the school announced that all those who participated in the walkout would be recorded as absent and assigned detention.


Hutson, who reportedly marched along with about 250 classmates, said the decision made them angry. “I think the things going on in my school and my district should be known,” Hutson tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I think often times adults don’t realize the extensiveness of the struggles we face.”

Photo: Summerlin Hutson
Photo: Summerlin Hutson

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, students have the right to speak out — including on flyers — as long as it doesn’t “disrupt the functioning of the school or violate the school’s content-neutral policies.” As far as punishment for a walkout, the ACLU notes that disciplinary action against students who leave class is permitted.

Leslee Wright, communications director at Bentonville Schools, tells Yahoo Lifestyle in a statement. “We fully respect and appreciate each student’s individual free speech rights. Our respect for their voices, however, does not translate to selective enforcement of our policies, which are designed to keep students safe while on campus and minimize disruption in the classroom.”

By Wednesday afternoon, the students were still waiting to get their official detentions, but Hutson doesn’t doubt that they will be given. “They made kids sign out on sheets if they wanted to leave the classroom for the walkout, and that’s how they’ll know who to assign detentions to,” she says. “I am not sure when they’ll assign them, but our administration stated multiple times that they would be.”

Although school officials were against the students’ actions Wednesday, not everyone in the older generation disagreed. In an interview with ArkansasMatters.com, Hutson’s father commended his daughter for standing up to authority. “I’m really proud of her for taking the lead in it, and I would think that everybody would be,’ John Hutson said. “We’re trying to raise these kids to be critical thinkers and articulate adults, and I think that’s what she’s doing.”

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