TURNER — Two students who carried pro-Second Amendment signs during a Leavitt Area High School walkout March 21 said their First Amendment rights were violated when they were sent home after refusing to give up their signs before returning to class.

Justin Lavigne, a junior, said he held a sign reading, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” when roughly 40 students left during a midmorning class March 21 and assembled outside.

Lavigne told the Sun Journal on Thursday that he and a friend, Brandon Spring, a freshman, stood to the side while a group of students read from papers they had written about how “guns were a really big problem.” Spring held a sign that read, “I support the 2nd Amendment.”

After 17 minutes, a school bell rang signaling the end of the class period and all of the students who had walked out re-entered the school. As Lavigne and Spring were heading to their next class with their signs, they were stopped by school administrators who told them they couldn’t bring their signs into the classroom, Lavigne said. They were summoned to the front office where they sat in a room with their signs, unwilling to dispose of them, he said.

He said they weren’t given the option of putting the signs in their lockers. They were given a choice of leaving their signs in the office for the day or putting them in the trash, he said.

They were told that bringing their signs into the classroom would cause a disruption and that other students wouldn’t be able to focus on schoolwork, he said.

Lavigne and Spring sat in the office with their signs until late morning when Spring’s mother came and gave the boys a ride home, he said.

Law enforcement officers had been called to the school because, according to an administrator, students were being disruptive and not listening, according to Androscoggin County Sheriff Eric Samson.

When sheriff’s deputies arrived, two students were seated in the main office holding signs and were not being disruptive, the deputies reported to dispatchers. The deputies were asked by administrators if they could stay until the boys were picked up to be taken home.

Principal Eben Shaw told the Sun Journal on the day of the walkout that none of the roughly 40 students, apart from Lavigne and Spring, had been holding signs during the event. He said four of those students had spoken about the tragedy at the high school in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people had been fatally shot by a 19-year-old gunman, but none of those speeches had been political in nature.

“I would say it was a very apolitical message,” he said.

Asked whether any of the students had protested about not being able to bring their signs back to class, Shaw said they hadn’t. He said no signs had been confiscated.

On Friday, in written answers to follow-up questions, Shaw wrote that the students who spoke had read remarks “memorializing the individuals killed” at the Florida high school “as well as expressing support for other victims of school violence.”

He wrote that the students who had signs “were asked to either put their signs away or leave them in the office until the end of the school day at which time they could take them home.”

Sheriff’s deputies had been asked initially to be present during the walkout as a precaution, Shaw wrote. Then, they were called back to the school.

“We did reach out and ask them to come into the building” after the walkout, Shaw wrote, without elaborating.

He said he had been concerned that some people had complained that the school had singled out students that day. “That was definitely not the case,” he said the day of the walkout.

On Friday, Shaw wrote in an email that Lavigne and Spring had been given a choice to put their signs away or leave them in the office until after school.

“These two students chose not to do that and preferred to leave school with their parents,” he wrote.

But Lavigne said he and Spring did feel as though they were being treated differently.

“I think it was unfair that me and my friend were being singled out, out of everyone else. If we weren’t allowed to have our stuff on us, why were other people allowed to have theirs?” he asked.

“I said that I was going to be holding onto (the sign) with me, that I wasn’t going to leave it with them and that it wasn’t going to be in the trash can,” he said. “But the other people that had a smaller sign on them were perfectly fine and they weren’t stopped.”

He said those students had written remarks on sheets of paper that they used to speak from during the walkout. “Some of them were saying guns were bad, they’re the problem.”

Those students were allowed to bring their speeches with them back into the classroom, he said.

“They were able to keep it on them all day,” he said.

Lavigne said he considered those remarks no less political than those that appeared on his and Spring’s signs.

A message posted on the school’s website from the morning of the walkout stated that the scheduled event to honor the one-month anniversary of the Florida high school shooting, which was canceled because of a snowstorm, had not been rescheduled.

“The plan for last Wednesday, which involved students leaving class and gathering outside was intended to recognize the one-month anniversary of the tragedy at (Marjory) Stoneman Douglas High School and coincide with the events planned at other schools across the country. This event was not intended to be rescheduled,” according to the post.

It continued, “For students who wish to further demonstrate their support for their peers in Parkland, Florida, and other victims of school violence, we’re willing to assist in organizing an event that takes place either before or after school. There has been some conversation about students leaving class this morning at 10 a.m. This is not the rescheduled event from last week, and students who choose to participate and leave class will be assigned detention.”

The post said that information would be shared with students at the start of their second-period class.

Shaw wrote Friday that “students who left class were assigned detention.”

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