After the May school shooting in Texas, President Obama’s secretary of education tweeted support for a radical idea: “What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe?”
Now, Arne Duncan is working to make his hypothetical a reality: a national public school boycott. But first, he wants input from people in Parkland.
He met Tuesday night with a select group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parents — including some who lost their children in the Feb. 14 shooting and others whose kids are now leading the national March For Our Lives movement — and got the support he felt he needed to move forward.
“Parents were open, receptive, constructive, supportive,” he said after the informal meeting at a Marriott hotel in Coral Springs.
The parents’ consensus was: Students would have to be the ones leading the effort — as they have in an unprecedented way since the massacre that left 17 dead at their high school. With chapters around the country and a major platform, March For Our Lives’ involvement could make or break Duncan’s plan, they argued.
The parents joked, though: Don’t tell the kids their moms and dads like the boycott plan.
“They would actually really hate it if they found out that all the parents sat around in a hotel room and thought this was a great idea,” said Elizabeth Wiegard, Emma Gonzalez’s mother.
Duncan said his goal is to create “tension” that will influence the midterm elections — and produce stricter gun laws.
The details for the boycott are still uncertain. One idea Duncan presented was to have students skip school on September 25, which is national voter registration day. Instead, kids could go door to door signing people up to vote and encouraging them to support candidates who will pass gun control.
Another option is doing it right before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, to drive turnout to the polls.
It’s also possible the boycott could last for longer than one day.
“We’re totally in our infancy,” Duncan said after the meeting, stressing the meeting with Parkland parents was one of the first steps in the planning process. “We’ve got to crawl before we can walk, walk before we can run.”
Duncan said he has been pessimistic in the past about the possibility for politicians to pass gun control measures, like a ban on assault-style weapons.
He said he lost a student every two weeks to gun violence when he was superintendent of Chicago’s public schools. And he was Obama’s education secretary when 26 people were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.
But the teen survivors in Parkland have given him new hope, he said.
“What you have here,” he said, “is a moral authority and a courage that is extraordinary.”