5 issues that have drawn student protests in the past year

High school protests are drawing increasing attention across the country as students walk out of classrooms — and sometimes into government buildings — to make their voices heard on a myriad of issues.

Students have pushed back as some states have decided to take a heavier-handed approach to their public schools, gun reform demonstrations in Tennessee have made national headlines and, later this month, organizations including Equality Florida and other LGBTQ groups are helping high schoolers organize walk-outs in response to anti-LGBTQ legislation in the state.

Here are five of the biggest issues that have drawn youth protests over the past year:

Gun violence

Students march from Hume Fogg High School to the state capitol for a March For Our Lives protest against gun violence in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, April 3. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

The U.S. has seen 14 school shootings in 2023 that have led to injury or death, according to a tracker by Education Week.

On April 5, thousands of students across the country participated in a national school walkout against gun violence, demanding reforms from lawmakers.

Students Demand Action says more than 300 schools in 42 states took part, including elementary, high school and college students.

Among them were students from Uvalde, Texas, which last May saw one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history when 19 children and two teachers were killed at Robb Elementary School.

Even before the national walkout, students in Nashville rallied together after a gunman killed six people, three of them children, at a local elementary school in March.

Students during the protest were seen in pictures holding up signs saying “Protect kids. Not guns.” Some even went to the Tennessee capitol chanting “You ban books, you ban drag — kids are still in body bags.”

The protests in Tennessee led to two Democratic state lawmakers getting expelled from the House for participating with students in the protests on the chamber floor. Both have since been reinstated by their local governments.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) on Tuesday committed to signing an executive order strengthening background checks for firearm purchases and calling for an “order of protection” law that would aim to make sure dangerous people can’t access guns.

Anti-LGBTQ bills

Protesters stand outside of the Senate chamber at the Indian statehouse, Wednesday, Feb. 22, in Indianapolis. The Senate’s health committee passed a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for minors. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

In multiple Republican-led states, laws are being passed or considered that directly affect LGBTQ youth in their schools.

The laws range from restricting which sports teams trans youth can participate in to forbidding teachers from using their pupils’ chosen pronouns.

Among the most controversial of these efforts is in Florida, where lawmakers passed the Parental Rights in Education law last year, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, and are now trying to expand on those efforts.

The law, which is backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) makes it so sexual orientation and gender identity can not be discussed through the third grade, and the expansion, if passed, would extend that restriction to the eighth grade.

Protests across Florida began last year when the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was first passed, with a student at Winter Park High School who organized protests with more than 500 students telling CNN they would not let the bill be passed quietly.

“We wanted to show our government that this isn’t going to stop. There were walkouts all last week. This is going to continue. If this passes, there will be protests everywhere,” Will Larkins told CNN. “We wanted to get the attention of our representatives, our senators, because the point is to show them that we are the ones in powers. The people are the ones in powers and what they’re doing doesn’t represent us, especially marginalized groups.”

Equality Florida said more than 300 high schools and colleges across the state will be participating in walkouts in protest of the expansion of the legislation on April 21.

More than 100 LGBTQ students and allies were at Florida’s state capitol the day the bill passed the House in March, with some chanting “hey hey, ho ho, Ron DeSantis has got to go.”

Similar demonstrations have been seen in Arizona, Missouri, Texas and other states.

Race education

A person cheers as New College of Florida students and supporters protest ahead of a meeting by the college’s board of trustees, Tuesday, Feb. 28, in Sarasota. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Over the past year, debate has erupted about how race should be taught in public schools.

Some states have banned the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), a legal theory largely taught at the university level that examines systemic racial bias in our legal and social institutions.

Earlier this year, hundreds of students from three different high schools in California walked out of class to protest a decision by the Temecula Valley Unified School District to ban CRT, The Press-Enterprise reported.

“I hope they realize we’re not going to be silent,” said Genesis Kekoa, president of Temecula Valley High’s Black Student Union. “We’re not being told by parents or teachers to do this; we’re doing it ourselves. We have a voice. I’m scared students are not going to be taught our history. Everyone deserves to be seen. Everyone’s culture and history deserves to be taught.”

Last year, students in Kentucky also went to the state capitol to protest against anti-CRT bills that were introduced by lawmakers.

Along with protests against banning CRT, students have made their thoughts known in Florida after the state government rejected the AP African American Studies course, including threatening to sue DeSantis over the rejection.

Book bans

A display of banned books is seen in a Barnes & Noble in Pittsford, N.Y., on Sunday, Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

Schools have been pulling books off the shelves amid a new push from legislators and parents to ensure the content is appropriate for students.

Often the books are removed as part of a review process when complaints are registered.

Dozens of students at Canby High School in Oregon last month held a protest during lunch after their school took 36 books off the shelves to review after complaints by two parents, OregonLive.com reported.

“Students need to see representation in books with LGBTQ and Black characters, so they know that they are not alone,” senior Avery Keinomen told the local outlet. “Banning books inherently limits that knowledge.”

Local Pennsylvania outlet Patch reported earlier this month that hundreds of students at Perkiomen Valley High School were protesting against the potential of a book ban in their area.


Fiorella Flores, center, a student at the Catholic University of America, joins demonstrators in protest outside of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, May 3. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

High school students organized quickly last year for nationwide protests for abortion rights as Roe v. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court.

In New York, Denver and other cities, students walked out in protest of the leaked Supreme Court decision, which nixed the right to an abortion at the federal level.

Students in Carborro High School in North Carolina, for example, left their classrooms in May and took a walk around the school, local outlet WNCN reported.

“This is just a quick note to let you know that this morning, some students did not go to their Real Talk class and the end of 2nd period, but instead gathered outside to share their feelings and thoughts about the recent national conversation concerning abortion rights. The gathering, which began as a walk around the school, was conducted in an organized manner by students and supervised by administration and staff,” the school’s principal told parents.

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