Tonya Alanez

Tonya Alanez  Reporter South Florida Sun Sentinel

Parkland parents gathered in a hotel conference room Tuesday night to hear Barack Obama’s former secretary of education make a radical pitch for a nationwide school boycott.

The idea is to create enough tension by keeping students home from school to force Congress to take action on gun-reform legislation.

The “intentionally provocative” proposal, Arne Duncan explained to an audience of nearly 50 parents, teachers and students at the Marriott hotel, is akin to the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott advocated by Martin Luther King Jr. That 13-month mass protest changed national policy about segregation on public buses and the same could be done here in the name of gun reform, he said.

“I think America doesn’t care enough,” said Duncan, secretary of education from 2009 to 2015. “If America cared, it would vote on this issue.”

Duncan has been touting the boycott idea since a former education department colleague, Peter Cunningham, who joined Duncan Tuesday night, suggested such a boycott in a tweet after a shooting at a Houston-area high school killed 10.

“This is brilliant and tragically necessary,” Duncan, a former superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, tweeted in response.

Gail Schwartz, aunt of 14-year-old Alex Schacter, who was murdered by a mass shooter on Feb. 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School, invited Duncan to Parkland to share his call to action.

“It will only work if we get the whole country involved,” Schwartz said. “What we need to do is get the whole country enthused about the idea and I think Secretary Duncan can help us do that.”

“This is a made-in-America problem,” Duncan said. “It happens because we allow it to happen.”

Tuesday’s gathering focused on exploring the idea, figuring out how to make it work and developing a mission statement.

It must be student led and it must occur during the run up to November’s mid-term elections, all agreed. Whether it should last for one day or a few, be called a boycott or a strike and tied to a mission such as voter registration were some of the ideas batted back and forth.

“November is everything,” said Fred Guttenberg, who has devoted himself to gun-reform activism since his 14-year-old daughter Jaime was shot and killed at the Parkland school shooting. “This has got to stop.”