Re: Headline, “No Walkouts in Citrus Schools” (March 15, page A1).

The headline should have read “Citrus County students denied their voice — school officials quell free speech.”

It is unacceptable that Citrus County school officials prohibited, and even penalized, those students trying to exercise their rights to peacefully assemble and voice their opinions about a situation that directly impacts their daily lives: Guns and schools.

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In an attempt to influence lawmakers, our children have chosen to speak out. During this latest debate about firearms, our children have banded together across the country to protest for stricter gun controls. In Citrus County, the kids were silenced by their own school system. Students were denied the right to state their opinions. Schools are supposed to provide the open forum for such discussion, not discourage a dialogue. Censorship is a most insidious kind of social control.

On a day of national student unity, many other school systems across the country actively encouraged students/faculty to speak out about gun control and participate in a peaceful walkout. The walkout protest provided a powerful civics lesson for children nationwide to empower themselves to have input on any issue. Citrus County students were denied this right. Citrus County school officials have set a poor example for our kids. Free speech and peaceful assembly are basic American rights afforded to us all, perhaps especially to our children.

School officials’ message to was clear: “How to control free speech 101.” The idea of school counselors, and the Citrus County Sheriff, barring students from participating in a peaceful assembly presents a frightening image. An image of a threat — of the weaponization/militarization of our school campuses.

The common-sense idea is already firmly established in our children’s minds that guns and schools don’t belong together, and that America needs stricter laws controlling access to firearms. This is the message our kids are trying to communicate to lawmakers — if the politicians are listening. Unfortunately, no students’ voices were heard from Citrus County schools.

Keep speaking out, kids! You will be able to vote soon enough. Eighteen to 21-year-olds are a most underestimated voting age group.

Jeffrey Selvaggio

Dunnellon