High school junior Brandon Gillespie learned Friday that administrators at his school would not accommodate a pro-life student walkout the same way they did an anti–gun violence demonstration last month.
In a statement released Monday, administrators for a Northern California school district said a pro-life demonstration “is not related to school and is not viewpoint neutral,” whereas the March 14 walkout in response to the deadly shooting at Parkland High School in Florida “was organized as a remembrance activity which was considered viewpoint neutral, and it was a show of unity for students as part of a national conversation concerning school safety”
In his meeting with Gillespie, Rocklin High School Principal Davis Stewart called the pro-life walkout “controversial,” Gillespie told me.
“I came right back at him [saying] the other walkout was very, very controversial,” Gillespie said. “I think everyone knows the previous walkout was for gun control. I told him it was being advertised as a gun-control walkout.”
The Life Legal Defense Foundation sent Stewart a letter on Monday, requesting equal treatment for Gillespie at Wednesday’s pro-life walkout.
“RHS may wish to review its policies regarding expressive activity like student walkouts, but Brandon Gillespie is going to conduct his activity in the same manner as the previous walkout and expects to be treated in the exact same manner as the students who participated in the gun walkout,” wrote Allison K. Aranda, senior staff counsel for the nonprofit law firm that defends First Amendment rights. “I am writing to you in order to ensure that Brandon’s First Amendment and Equal Protection rights are safeguarded.”
Aranda gave Stewart a deadline of 9 a.m. Tuesday to respond, warning that if Gillespie does not receive equal treatment Wednesday, “[W]e will pursue all legal remedies to protect his constitutional and civil rights.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Stewart had not responded to the letter, according to Aranda. But Rocklin Unified School District spokeswoman Diana Capra told me the district’s legal team plans to issue a response Tuesday evening.
Also, efforts to reach Stewart and Roger Stock, the district’s superintendent, for further comment on the district’s actions were unsuccessful.
Spurred by Gillespie’s challenge, hundreds of students from across the country plan to walk out of their classes at 10 a.m. local time Wednesday to show their support for the lives of unborn children, Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for Students for Life, told me.
Students who walk out will not face “disciplinary consequences” in the Rocklin district. But, unlike the previous protest, school administrators have not asked teachers to accommodate students by changing their lesson plans, including postponing tests.
Julianne Benzel, the Rocklin history teacher whose class discussion prompted Gillespie’s request and led to administrators putting her on a two-day paid leave of absence, said some students could be “intimidated, harassed, or penalized” by teachers hostile to the pro-life message or simply irritated by another class disruption. Or, like herself, some may believe standing up for your convictions sometimes comes with a price.
Benzel does not plan to reschedule a test she has set for Wednesday. But the students who walk out that period, including Gillespie, can choose to complete the test during study hall, she told me.
Students for Life launched a website to promote the event and provide students with signs, shirts, and even legal resources where needed. School administrators, like those at Rocklin High, have dragged out the approval process, leaving students with precious little time to promote or prepare for the event, Hamrick told me.
Gillespie, who waited until he heard from his principal before promoting the walkout at Rocklin, said he’ll give a speech, ask for a moment of silence, and hopefully close with a song like “Amazing Grace” at Wednesday’s 17-minute vigil.
Just as she did prior to the last walkout, Benzel spent a few minutes of class time Monday and Tuesday asking her students what they knew about the event. No one should walk out in ignorance, she said.
Gillespie planned the walkout to test Benzel’s question of whether the school would accommodate a student demonstration for a conservative cause. He succeeded in revealing the district’s political double standard.
“I did it for a multitude of reasons, and those included [bringing] nationwide awareness of the issue of abortion and Planned Parenthood and to inspire students to stand up for what they believe in,” he said.