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Our Opinion: Titans see threats for exercising protesting rights — Walkouts are a student choice

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Our Opinion: Titans see threats for exercising protesting rights — Walkouts are a student choice

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The recent shooting in Parkland, Fla. has ignited a flame in the hearts of the survivors. A national walkout facilitated by the Women’s March has called for students, teachers and allies to walk out for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. tomorrow to protest gun violence in schools and to bring awareness to school safety.

However, at Stevenson High School, Titans were informed that if students partake in tomorrow’s events, they could face Saturday school, an unexcused absence, a missed prom or even a potential suspension.

“Rumor has it that future activities such as prom may be cancelled. I am not correcting that rumor,” SHS Principal Steven Pfannes said in an email to teachers on March 12.

Pfannes’ decision to not participate in tomorrow’s walkout came after Utica Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Christine Johns sent an email to parents on March 9 talking about the national movement.

In her letter, Johns said: “We respect the voice of our students and want to make sure they are allowed to exercise a hallmark of our democracy — their First Amendment Right of free speech — in a meaningful way.”

The decision as to whether or not the individual schools would participate was then left to each principal to decide.

Instead of tomorrow’s planned protest, Mr. Pfannes is encouraging students to participate in an organized walkout on April 20 — the date chosen since administration would have more time to arrange it, students could give more input and that it would be “warmer out.”

We do not care about being cold or it being unorganized — we just want to be able to exercise our First Amendment rights without punishment.

The walkouts are meant to show the solidarity of students across the nation. There is not a need for specific organization or activity because it is already done by the event. Here at the Vanguard, the staff believes that it should be the student’s choice — even if a there is a bigger event scheduled on another date.

In the past, Mr. Pfannes has supported the student voice of the Vanguard with little to no problem, but attempting to scare students into not participating is unlike what is typically known.

Administering threats to students who decide to partake in an event of this manner is the opposite of the intended effect. The administration at SHS should not strive to be part of the problem that students and faculty are protesting.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, ‘FAQ: know your rights in school’ (Sept. 23, 2014): “Students have the constitutional right to express themselves outside the classroom ‘unless it causes a material and substantial disruption’ to class or other school activities. That means that you can’t be silenced just because your message might be offensive, unpopular, controversial, or draws attention.”

Students who leave the classroom quietly and exit promptly are not causing half as much distraction as the administrator’s threats make them out to be.

We live in a world where protesting has become the new norm. Around the country, people rally for everything — from gun safety and political issues, to women and LGBT rights and more.

Right now, the SHS administration is prohibiting us from doing that without consequence. What is that teaching? That you should not stand up for what you believe in.

Do not allow misguided authority to take away a Titan’s passion for an issue you believe in.

Activism is about doing it anyway.

Participating in the National School Walkout, sophomores Kelly Felice (left)


and Courtnee Delph bow their heads solemnly during the National School Walkout 

March 14 in remembrance of the 17 students and the teacher who lost their lives 

in Parkland, Fl. on Valentine’s Day. Principal Steven Pfannes joined Felice and 

Delph during the 10- 10:17 a.m. protest in remembrance and conversation. 

Photo by Ashley Farris

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9 Responses to “Our Opinion: Titans see threats for exercising protesting rights — Walkouts are a student choice”

  1. Logan Piwonski on March 14th, 2018 5:40 am

    I believe that this protest is stupid.Students walking out of school are either to protest against guns or skipping class. Another reason why it’s stupid is that what if the teacher can’t go further into the chapter or section because there isn’t a lot of students. I also would say to the protesters to look up Tinker v DeMoine because of what they are doing is different than what Tinker did. I don’t care if you wear orange, but walking out of school will add an extra day of your school.

  2. Kelly Felice on March 15th, 2018 7:46 am

    Hello, Logan. I’m one of the two students that I know of at Stevenson that participated in the walk out. We didn’t cause a disturbance in class and simply walked out. Also, since the walk out was only seventeen minutes, there wasn’t that much class time wasted. One can argue that snow days waste more time, but those are necessary, and so was this. If we don’t feel safe at school, how are we supposed to learn or “dive deeper into the chapter” if we’re fearing for our lives every time a door opens? I’d gladly go to school another day if it meant I would be safer.

  3. Carolyn Frischman on March 14th, 2018 8:30 am

    The students at Stevenson – including the Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper – that have had me as their Government teacher KNOW that there is no bigger supporter of the 1st Amendment than I. That said, I feel this editorial (and the media reports that have snowballed from it) misrepresents Mr. Pfannes’ position and takes something he wrote completely out of context. Rather than deviate from his long history of supporting SHS student publications and the freedoms of speech, press, and assembly – as is suggested in this editorial – what Mr. Pfannes did was STAND UP for students’ rights to all of the above. By stating that students in our school approached him and WANTED to participate in April 20th rather than today, he supported them and stood up for their right to do so. Mr. Pfannes merely acted on the will of the students that approached him about participating in the walkout, who wanted time to plan something organized, meaningful, and SCHOOL-WIDE…allowing for as much student input into the April 20th event as possible. As far as “threatened punishments”, there is nothing new about disciplinary consequences for truancy from school. Mr. Pfannes was simply acting proactively in his communications to prevent any students from getting themselves in trouble. The editors of The Vanguard should have given Mr. Pfannes – who has ALWAYS supported them – the courtesy of an interview in advance of publishing this fairly one-sided editorial. A democracy only works if citizens understand that with every right comes a corresponding responsibility. I believe the editors of The Vanguard owe Mr. Pfannes a retraction and/or an apology. Most Sincerely, Carolyn Frischman

  4. editor on March 14th, 2018 12:21 pm

    Dear Ms. Frischman, you are entitled to your opinion, but we will not apologize for ours.
    -Sarena Danou, Co-Editor in chief

  5. Carolyn Frischman on March 14th, 2018 12:52 pm

    Dear Sarena,

    It appears we have agreed to disagree in a responsible and respectful manner. I remain very proud and supportive of the work that you and all of the Vanguard staff and Ms. Pantano do everyday to be the student voice of Stevenson….sometimes with very little outside support. Only a former student newspaper editor like myself can truly understand the magnitude and impact of what you commit countless hours to everyday and night to bring us the news in and around our school community. Even when we disagree, I remain your biggest fan.

    Most Sincerely,

    Ms. Frischman

  6. Danielle Kassab on March 14th, 2018 2:40 pm

    Would love more details regarding the miscommunication POV vs. students feeling they were being ignored and threatened. I’d like to have facts together before contacting Superintendent and local media as an alumni of SHS. Please email me at [email protected] thanks.

  7. Paulie Schuchmann on March 14th, 2018 1:55 pm

    We live in a society in which men and women are constantly divided by their own beliefs. In the wake of tragedies such as the Parkland shooting, there comes a sense of heightened urgency in the political climate in which people feel the need to do something. They feel the need to prevent further bloodshed, whether it be through strict gun restriction, mental illness awareness, or school’s defensive measures in the event of an attack. It always seems that individual beliefs like these get taken seriously to an extent that incites argument, which incites disputes, which incites conflict. There are always two sides of this conflict: those individuals who think change needs to be made, and those who think things are fine the way they are. In most cases, these types of conflicts ensue, tensions rise, tensions die down, and everything returns to normal within a week or two. However, as of recent years, a disturbing trend has become undeniably apparent. The number and scale of these mass tragedies has spiked in recent years becoming increasingly apparent in 2012 which saw roughly 160 casualties (deaths + injuries) caused by mass shootings, continuing to spike in 2016 with 154 and in 2017 with a devastating 629 casualties as a result of mass shootings. To put those numbers into perspective, the most casualties witnessed in a single year since 1990 as a result of mass shootings before 2012 was 89 in the year 1999. If these numbers are an indication of anything, it should be that the time to make a change is now. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to make said changes. As a result of the spike in mass shootings people are finding it increasingly urgent to advertise their own individual political beliefs which is what is driving a wedge between the two sides I mentioned previously. And, as a result of this divide and the tensions that are rising in the wakes of these massive tragedies. It seems as though both sides are talking at each other when now, more than ever before, they need to be listening. This is why we must protest. During my life span I’ve never seen political tensions reach such an all-time high. On one hand you have people who are passionate about their beliefs, people who watch the slaughter of children on what seems to be a regular basis, students who flinch at the sound of a door slamming in the hall, a sound that can easily be mistaken as an AR-15. And on the other hand, you have people in power who refuse to do anything because they figure if it isn’t broke, why fix it. At the end of the day, if there’s one point I would like to get across, it’s that something big is on the horizon. If we as students and as people continue to stand by and watch the two sides fire back and forth with no end in sight, then this tension will continue to rise. Protests are the only way we as students can hope to gain the attention of those in power and stop the frantic arguing between the two sides and maybe actually bring them closer together on some level. Because I sincerely believe that if we as students, as the future generation of America, don’t do something to bridge this divide whether the issue be gun control, mental health or any of the above. If we let ourselves be silenced, then we will feel what a house divided against itself is like to sleep in. We will witness the consequences of 100 years’ worth of arguing with no action being taken. We will see the political infrastructure on which our once great nation was built upon will crumble under the tension, and even our founding fathers wouldn’t have been able to predict the magnitude of what will happen next. If we can’t come to an agreement, if we can’t learn to hear each other out, if we can’t learn to focus on what we love instead of what we hate, if we can’t realize that we’re all people deep down, then we will never truly be united. And maybe a walk-out isn’t the way to go about getting people’s attention, maybe it is, that’s not for me to decide. But if the future generation of America won’t let their voices be heard in a peaceful and unifying way, something that sounds an awful lot like a walk-out, then this country doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell. So, let the kids protest, let their voices be heard, because maybe, just maybe, their voices will shut everyone up, and we’ll finally be able to talk about real change.

  8. Thomas Carney, retired SHS teacher and Vanguard advisor on March 15th, 2018 11:25 am

    Two things from Ms. Frischman’s original post impel me to comment.

    First, she says the op-ed piece didn’t include an interview with Mr. Pfannes and was one-sided. But that’s the point of op-ed pieces: to take a stand, one side or the other, not to provide a balanced report.

    I’d like to see a follow-up interview with Mr. Pfannes that asks what purpose did he serve by “not correcting” the prom cancellation rumor.

    Second, Ms. Frischman drives home the reality of situations by rebutting the “threatened punishment” part of the argument in the op-ed piece. I’d like to take her point a bit further and point out that those who think the First Amendment protects them from backlash over their exercising their rights to free speech might be misguided. As Ms. Frischman indicates, the First Amendment doesn’t protect someone who breaks other rules or laws while speaking/demonstrating/or otherwise shouting out to the world. Repercussions are often the price we pay for meaningful protests.

    To put it another way, doesn’t protest without risk or sacrifice demand about the same level of commitment as tossing on a blue or white shirt on Spirit Day?

  9. editor on March 16th, 2018 1:14 pm

    Ms. Frischman and I have spoken about the comment she posted, however, I did not make that point to her and may bring it to her attention. I remain respectful of her opinion, nonetheless.
    I really enjoy this suggestion and I will do my absolute best to follow through with it. This is a great idea and I am curious about the purpose of that as well.
    While I do agree with you, I do not think that it was necessary for Principal Pfannes to allude to the cancellation of prom or possible suspension. Walking out of the school is considered a truancy or an unexcused absence and just because there happened to be a planned event that day does not mean the consequences should increase on account of that.
    I thoroughly appreciate your comment and thank you for the time you put into sending it.
    -Sarena Danou, Co-editor in chief

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.


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Our Opinion: Titans see threats for exercising protesting rights — Walkouts are a student choice