The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Then-U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan addresses a crowd of teachers and politicians in Chicago on Feb. 28, 2013. (Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.

His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high school Friday killed 10 people — a mass shooting that came just three months after 17 students and staffers were slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

When Peter Cunningham, a former education department employee, tweeted that it may be time for parents to pull their children out of school until gun laws are changed, Duncan, the education secretary under Obama, responded that his family “is in.”

“This is brilliant, and tragically necessary,” Duncan tweeted. “What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe? My family is all in if we can do this at scale. Parents, will you please join us?”

Duncan said in an interview Saturday that the idea was intended to be provocative but that an aggressive approach like a school boycott is needed if gun laws are ever going to change. He has school-age children and said if this idea were to gain traction, his family would participate.

“It’s wildly impractical and difficult,” Duncan said. “But I think it’s wildly impractical and difficult that kids are shot when they are sent to school.”

Those killed in Texas were at Sante Fe High School.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) spoke at a vigil held for the Santa Fe High School shooting victims on May 18. (Video: Whitney Leaming, Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

Duncan is the managing partner of Chicago Cred, an organization that works to curb gun violence in Chicago.

A school boycott, Duncan said, is just one suggestion, and he said he’d consider other creative ideas that could impel policy changes.

“I’m open to other ideas, I’m open to different ideas, but I’m not open to doing nothing,” Duncan said. “We will see whether this gains traction, or something does, but we have to think radically.”

The boycott proposition received momentum online, including support from parents and the founder of Teach for America, Wendy Kopp.

Others questioned the practicality of the idea, saying it may be hard for single parents and low-income families to participate.

Still, some chimed in and said they would volunteer to watch children in their homes while they boycotted school.

“I’m in — let’s pick a date and start a movement no politician can ignore,” replied Jim Manly, the superintendent of KIPP Public Charter Schools in New York City.

The former secretary called the country “morally bankrupt” and said people can’t become numb to these mass shootings.

“This is not rocket science,” Duncan said. “This is not a difficult intellectual issue. What we have lacked is political courage, and we need to create the tension that allows us to break through on this issue. “