Students across the country will come together today to add their voices to the conversation on school violence, but in Henderson County, no one will hear them.

School officials have decided to effectively silence students by limiting their free speech during today’s National School Walkout. Students will not be allowed to go outside at all, and not even their parents will be able to hear them speak.

You can leave class and speak up, the school system says, but no one will know. We will control your voice, your reach, and therefore your message.

School officials are telling students they can take initiative, but only on the school system’s terms. Charged with developing young adults into future leaders, capable of making adult decisions, the school system is instead framing student expression and setting the rules, similar to “helicopter parents” dictating whether their nearly adult children may speak up today or not.

As a newspaper, we advocate for free speech — even the speech of teenagers. School violence directly affects students, and not just the threats growing in frequency in Henderson County, or the shootings that have already occurred, but in the daily impact on their lives — the now-locked doors, strict policies, increased surveillance and supervision. The fear, the tension and the anxiety that come with our changing society.

The school system has taken several steps to increase safety, and school officials and law enforcement are to be commended for taking action. Classroom doors are now locked; safety advisory committees are being established; community meetings will be scheduled; and an online school safety reporting app is being developed.

Mental health first-aid and emergency procedures and “student in crisis” support strategies will also be prioritized for professional development.

“We’re really trying to be proactive in how we’re supporting our students and supporting our school communities in order that we might be addressing areas of concern before they become a safety issue,” Associate Superintendent John Bryant said Monday.

Most of these conversations and decisions involve only adults, however. Today’s walkout gives students a chance to weigh in.

Safety measures are indeed necessary for walkouts, but can be done without infringing on students’ rights. The media are one way to get student messages out and help them spread their voice. Allowing media on school campuses for the walkout does nothing to weaken security; in fact, reporters and photographers are often invited to cover events that paint schools in a good light.

Allowing parents — who often must check in and scan driver’s licenses for entry — onto the property does not endanger safety. It’s already done on a regular basis, for assemblies, holiday parties, book fairs, fundraisers, sporting events, etc.

Many times a school’s doors are unlocked for big events and parents are merely asked to sign their name on a piece of paper as they walk freely through the doors. But today, these safety procedures initiated by the school system itself are suddenly unsafe.

In the end, the school system’s actions serve only to stifle free speech by muting students’ voices. A walkout can be handled in a safe manner that does not infringe on students’ First Amendment rights.

Students deserve to tell the community how they feel and add their opinions to the discussion without being silenced. After all, who has more at stake than they do?