An Ohio high school student has found himself at the center of political controversy after an online post about his suspension for staying in class during the national student school walkout went viral.
But that story isn’t exactly true.
Jacob Shoemaker, a senior at Hilliard Davidson High School in Hilliard, Ohio, was in fact suspended. But not because he chose not to join his classmates and the hundreds of thousands of students across the country who walked out of their classrooms to protest gun violence in the wake of a Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead. It was because he didn’t go to a designated area of the school where the non-protesters were supposed to be and instead stayed by himself in a classroom.
He stayed in the classroom, his father said, because he didn’t want to choose a side.
“He was uncomfortable going to either location as he thought that going outside would most likely be politicizing a horrific event which he wanted no part of,” his father, Scott Shoemaker, wrote in a Facebook post on Friday. “But staying inside would make him look disrespectful or insensitive to 17 innocent victims if it turned out to be more of a memorial service.”
On social media, however, Shoemaker’s now-viral suspension slip has been spun into a tale about how a liberal school system impeded the rights of a student who supported the Second Amendment, and misleading headlines painted a picture of Shoemaker being suspended solely on the grounds that he did not participate in the walkout.
This comes at a time when the push for greater gun control has gained momentum, with the Florida shooting survivors set to lead a gun-control march on Washington on March 24. The responses to these efforts have at times fallen along partisan lines.
On Twitter, users shared Shoemaker’s photos of the suspension slip with hashtags such as #GunControlNever and #LiberalismIsAMentalDisorder. One person tweeted, “To paraphrase George Orwell, some speech is more equal than others.”
Shoemaker’s father said he has been inundated with so many supportive messages and threats from strangers who saw the viral posts that he is considering changing his number, he told the Independent in Massillon, Ohio. One of Shoemaker’s father’s old phone numbers and the numbers of school district officials have been circulating on social media. One Twitter user singled out Hilliard Davidson Principal Aaron Cookson for being a “#BadEducator” and “#BadDad.”
The walkouts taking place at thousands of schools across the nation were viewed by some as politically divisive. Lawmakers such as New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) joined students in walking out of their classrooms and called for stricter gun legislation, chanting with students, “Gun control now.” NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, on the other hand, told Fox News’s “Fox & Friends” that students were unjustly blaming the NRA and President Trump for the Florida school shooting instead of promoting safer schools.
While the walkouts were for the most part peaceful, some conservatives pointed at a violent protest at Antioch High School in Nashville, where a group of students ripped the flag down from its pole and stomped on it, according to a video posted by Fox17. Police said students also jumped onto a patrol car, according to WZTV.
On the night before his school’s walkout, Shoemaker told his father that he wasn’t sure about participating and that school officials were, in some respects, pressuring students to pick a side.
“The biggest problem, Dad, is that there shouldn’t be politics in the classroom. … I may just sit in my seat. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the least intrusive of the choices I’ve been given,” he told his father, according to the Independent.
Shoemaker added that he wasn’t the only student who felt this way. School district officials said that “well under” half of the student population participated in the walkout — but that the majority of students were “comfortable and confident” in their decision not to participate.
On Wednesday, Jacob Shoemaker sat in his classroom, by himself, for about an hour. A scribbled note on the suspension slip he was handed read: “Student refused to follow instructions after being warned repeatedly by several administrators. Student not permitted on property 24 hours.”
“He stayed in the classroom, where he was supposed to be in the first place,” Shoemaker’s father told the Independent. “It’s kind of ironic.”
Shoemaker and his father could not be immediately reached by The Post.
While school officials could not confirm whether Shoemaker was suspended for privacy reasons, Hilliard district spokeswoman Stacie Raterman confirmed to the Independent that the suspension slip in the photos circulating online was real.
A statement on the district’s website Friday said the walkout was not designed to be political and was not carried out that way. It was instead meant to memorialize the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Students had the option not to participate but had to be supervised because the walkout took place during school hours, district officials said.
“We do not leave students unattended in classrooms. This is the same practice our district implements when students opt out of other school programs or activities. We provide an alternative, supervised location,” district officials said.
“There is inaccurate and false information being circulated regarding both the intent of these gatherings and the events that took place during a specific activity at Davidson High School,” district officials said. “These gatherings were not political events; they were respectful gatherings remembering the senseless loss of young people.”