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Am estimated 350 students attended an organized walkout at Rapid City Stevens High School.

Journal file

It’s been 12 days since Rapid City students participated in a nationwide school walkout to protest inaction by Congress on gun control after the Parkland, Florida, high school mass shooting.

Yet, the school district and those high school students who participated continue to get assailed by critics who seem more upset with the 17-minute statement than the loss of 17 lives.

The school district has been accused of wasting taxpayers’ money and encouraging students to make a political statement although there is no evidence of that. The students have been called pawns of gun control advocates, ignorant and even foolish — their credibility skewered by adults who in many cases haven’t stepped into a classroom for decades.

The notion that the school district wasted the taxpayers’ money is a convenient argument used in the absence of facts. Critics never complained when, for example, it was reported that students sacrifice class time for active-shooter training or when classes are interrupted by an announcement that a school has been placed on secured status over concerns of a possible shooter in the area.

The reality is that schools face new challenges beyond educating our children as society now delegates many tasks to them, including confronting bullying, responding to mental health issues and making sure some students have enough to eat.

In the case of the walkout, the school district either could have managed the situation or let it be managed by students who were determined to make their voices heard. The district also was under pressure from gun advocates and politicians who wanted to participate so they could make their case for school sentinels, or armed teachers, staff members or volunteers.

The school district rejected those requests and only allowed the walkout to occur inside the school under tightly controlled conditions that allowed the students to make their statement in a safe environment. As a result, no one was hurt and the disruption at the school was minimized. For that, school officials deserve credit.

The students, meanwhile, have become targets of some of the harshest criticism. In an effort to impugn their character and marginalize them, the critics have suggested they should lose certain privileges — like the right to vote — until they are 21. It is an ironic proposition since those most upset by the walkout are mostly concerned about seeing their Second Amendment rights being chipped away as a result of recent protests spawned by mass shootings at schools.

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The students, on the other hand, have stayed on the high ground. A Rapid City Stevens student interviewed by the Journal clearly articulated their point of view. They do not want to eliminate anyone's Second Amendment right to bear arms but do want Congress to look at reasonable gun control measures. Should they be criticized for wanting to participate in the political process? Isn't that what we want to see in America?

Those students represent the future and are becoming adults at a time when some are expressing a real concern about democracy as voter turnout continues to lag, partisanship hardens and special interests use their financial clout to set the agenda.

By allowing the students to experience a real-life civics lesson, the school district helped them understand what it takes to become to become an active participant the democratic process and citizens who want to make a real difference for their country.

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