Some of Virginia’s top colleges won’t penalize applicants for participating in peaceful protests as a nationwide call for gun control reform has swept into high schools with students walking out of class.

The University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, the University of Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University and the College of William & Mary have joined the growing list of colleges saying applicants won’t be affected if they participate — or are disciplined — for peacefully protesting gun rights.

“Rest assured that no students engaging in their right to engage in peaceful protest, now or in the future, would see their admission status jeopardized as a result of their actions,” said Tim Wolfe, associate provost for enrollment and dean of admission, in a statement to the William & Mary community.

Similar statements came from other state universities.

“The University of Virginia community mourns the tragic loss of life at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” said U.Va. deputy spokesman Wes Hester. “U.Va. will not penalize prospective students who engage in civil discourse and peaceful protest.”

The University of Richmond wrote on Twitter: “In recent weeks, we have all shared in the heartbreak of the devastating loss of life at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and we are all wondering what might be done to stem the tide of gun violence that has taken many young lives. What we know we can do right now is to reiterate our policy that those who choose to peaceably participate in civic protest will not be impacted negatively in any way in the admissions process to the University of Richmond.”

Virginia Tech’s admissions director, Juan Espinoza, had this message on the college’s Twitter page: “Participation in peaceful protest by those who have applied to or have been admitted to Virginia Tech will not jeopardize one’s admission. Virginia Tech will support any current or prospective student’s first amendment rights.”

A statement from James Madison University said making blanket statements “undermines the (admissions) process itself.”

“Our admissions officers are willing to consider any special circumstances that may exist for each applicant,” the statement read, saying later: “Each student has a unique experience and it is the job of our admissions officer to understand that experience and how it has shaped their ability to be successful at JMU.”

Here in Richmond, a Virginia Commonwealth University spokesperson said the university “welcomes applications from individuals who have exercised their rights to engage in peaceful protest and thoughtful dialogue.”

The announcements come as students are walking out of class to protest gun violence after a 19-year-old killed 17 people in Florida on Feb. 14. The massacre has renewed a debate on gun control that has involved students who survived the attack calling for action.

Two walkouts have been planned in Richmond for March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Florida shooting, and April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.

A march in Washington, called the March for Our Lives, is scheduled for March 24 and is expected to draw close to half a million people.

Across the Richmond region, school divisions are still working on how they will address and handle student walkouts:

  • Richmond Public Schools is still finalizing details, a representative said.
  • A Hanover County Public Schools representative said no final decisions have been made.
  • Chesterfield County Public Schools’ goal is “to work with students to find a way to express their viewpoints in a manner that does not cause a disruption to the educational environment,” a representative said.
  • In Henrico County, disciplinary action is not being considered, a representative said.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said Monday that students shouldn’t be disciplined for walking out of class to protest gun violence and that it should not affect their admissions status.

Kaine held a Richmond roundtable on gun violence Monday with parents from the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

“High school students doing this are demonstrating that they’ve taken their civics education seriously. I don’t think there’s any denying that this is a powerful and tragic learning experience that kids at Parkland have learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons in just a couple weeks,” Kaine said. “If they can also learn the lesson that from a painful situation you can sometimes channel your hurt, your anger, your loss into trying to do something good for somebody else, wouldn’t we want our students to understand that?”

He added: “And for students who aren’t at Parkland who are trying to stand up to support them, standing up and supporting people as they’re dealing with painful situations and make something positive out of a tragedy, isn’t that something that we want our young people to learn? So I would hope that school officials would recognize that this is not something to be discouraged or punished, it’s something that they should feel proud it’s something their students are engaging on.”

During the roundtable, Kaine said teachers shouldn’t be armed — an idea that President Donald Trump has endorsed — and said he’s hopeful Congress can pass gun reform. He was joined by about 50 parents.

“We’ve got to be on the right side of history for our children,” said Amanda Johnson, a mother who attended the roundtable.

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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