A California student will lead a school walkout on April 11 to protest abortion, just a few weeks after his school joined others across the country in walkouts protesting gun violence.
Rocklin High School student Brandon Gillespie wanted to see whether his school’s administration practiced a double standard for what student protests they are willing to approve.
“Along with being a movement commemorating the millions of children who fell victim to abortion, this movement is one that stands for all students’ right to freedoms of speech and assembly,” the 17-year-old said in an interview with National Review.
Gillespie will meet with the principal of the school on Friday and is asking for the same accommodation the gun-control protesters asked for: a 17-minute walkout at 10 a.m. But the high-schooler and his group say they will go ahead with their pro-life walkout whether or not the school recognizes their right to protest.
He hopes to promote nationwide awareness about abortion, especially the “cruel injustices taking place at Planned Parenthood,” and he is encouraging students across the country to join him, using the hashtag #Life on social media.
“We hope this movement inspires all students nationwide, regardless of their view on the abortion issue, to stand up for what they believe in,” he said.
Gillespie got the idea from his history teacher, Julianne Benzel.
Benzel was put on paid administrative leave after she suggested the school might have a double standard for what protests are acceptable.
The mother of five, who has taught at the school for 20 years and had a previously spotless record, was told not to come to work and given no time frame for the break. She told National Review that she believes the only reason she was allowed back at her job was the outrage of the community, which rallied to her side. Her punishment has also created a “climate of fear” among the other teachers, she added.
“I’m thrilled that he’s going to not only actively engage, but also that he’s going to challenge. He literally is trying to answer my question,” Benzel said of Gillespie.
She said she hopes the event will get the national attention it deserves.
Gillespie said the abortion walkout is a direct response to the school’s handling of Benzel’s situation, and is asking the administration to apologize to her publicly.
One student has already objected to the walkout, saying that unlike the country’s school-shooting epidemic, abortion has nothing to do with school or Rocklin’s students.
“They have their First Amendment, they can go protest about that anytime anywhere,” said Naeirika Neev, editor of the school newspaper. Neev is promoting the gun-control initiative in the newspaper but has avoided saying anything against abortion.
An ominous sign for the pro-life protesters is that Rocklin High School has a history of blocking anti-abortion events. The school previously shut down a group handing out pro-life pamphlets across the street from its campus, Benzel remembered.
“Brandon Gillespie is a terrific example of the passion this pro-life generation has, and his courageous effort to draw attention to the reality that more lives have been lost in our generation to abortion than all other causes should be national news,” Students for Life of America president Kristan Hawkins said in a statement to National Review. “Having opened to door to student-led walkouts as a way to express a political or cultural viewpoint, schools cannot shut that door to pro-life students who also are moved by the loss of life and horrific realities of the toll of abortion….Pro-life students deserve the same respect and accommodation that anti-gun student activists experienced.”