Local Schools Participate in National School Walkout

Mar 13, 2018

This week on Wednesday, one month after a shooter killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies are slated to walk out of school to demand that Congress pass legislation to address gun violence. A number of schools in the area are recognizing that walkout and call – in their own ways, as WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz reports.

The National School Walkout tomorrow [Wednesday, March 14], for 17 minutes at 10am across the country, is framed as a demand that Congress act meaningfully, to do more than share “thoughts and prayers,” to “pass federal gun reform legislation” to address the “public health crisis of gun violence,” according to an online call to action by the Women’s March Network

But many school divisions across the WMRA region are planning events for Wednesday that have a nonpolitical emphasis.

According to area superintendents, activities range from both a walkout and a “walk in” at schools in Shenandoah County, to blood drives in Page County, a silent memorial and expression of “anger over gun violence” in Nelson County, and more.

Superintendent Scott Kizner said in an email that Harrisonburg High School will have a voluntary, student-led remembrance. Rockingham County Public Schools, too, has embraced events in its middle and high schools as a way for students to show empathy.

DOUG ALDERFER: We’ve really tried to frame it as a remembrance event for the victims.

Doug Alderfer is the assistant superintendent of instruction in Rockingham County.

ALDERFER: We understand the horrific nature of gun violence, and we want to support anything that could help that be resolved. How that’s resolved is really not part of what we’re trying to push with this particular initiative. This was really for us more about understanding and realizing that this was a major event in the lives of high school students, not just there in Florida but everywhere, and what you’ve seen from the surviving students at the high school there, and their advocacy, I think it’s been inspirational to students here, as well.

At Broadway High School in northern Rockingham County, students with administrators are planning an optional presentation in the auditorium to commemorate the Parkland shooting victims. I spoke with four student planners there, all seniors.

ZACH WRIGHT: It’s more than just a number. It’s a person.

Zach Wright said that making the school’s event relatable and not political allows what happened to have an emotional impact that can continue to shape change rather than get lost in a focus on politics.

WRIGHT: These are people, just like you, and they had dreams just like you had dreams, they wanted to go to college, they wanted to be a professional athlete, they wanted to do all these things, just like you. And they can’t because of this.

The Parkland shooting and others have impacted students at Broadway. Brooke Moorman:

MOORMAN: It makes you just think. If it can happen there, it can happen here. It can really happen anywhere. It makes me sad just that that continues to happen, and it does make you, anyone a little bit more scared to come to school just because, I mean, it continues to happen.

I asked them about the National School Walkout’s call for gun legislation.

KEELY YOST: Students are able to take the presentation as they want. If they want to make it about gun control, then we can’t necessarily stop them.

This is Keely Yost:

YOST: But we’re just trying to remember those who lost their lives. I think that given that this place is very well known for guns that we know that that could spark tension around here, and have problems if we tried to carry on like that, and that’s not what we’re doing at all.

Her sister, Lindy:

LINDY YOST: Yeah, I think that because we’re in high school and they’re still immature kids, that you know, maybe while we’re doing the presentation they’ll get up and walk out, but that’s a reality of high school, and people are going to make it about gun control because that’s what it’s about. We can say that it’s not, and we’re trying to put this mask over it, to make it seem better. Broadway does not want to make it about gun control or anything else other than us promoting our students, us giving remembrance to those who died that day.

Again, Brooke Moorman:

BROOKE MOORMAN: I think we can all agree that what happened is terrible, and that can’t keep happening, no matter if you’re pro-gun or want gun control, etc. We all know that it wasn’t okay and this is just, like, I think, a lot of people coming together not necessarily to take a stand but just to show that we recognize that this can’t keep happening.

Not far from Broadway, too, at the small, private Eastern Mennonite Elementary School, students are planning a walkout, for fourth and fifth graders. Here are fourth graders Nathan Pineo and Marshall Nichols.

NATHAN PINEO: We are going to sing songs, have prayers, and basically just remember the people who died in the incident.

CLYMER KURTZ: What songs are you going to sing?

MARSHALL NICHOLS: Our theme song, which is “Jesus, Help us live in peace.”

NATHAN PINEO: We just want to make sure that they understand that this is a big thing and it’s very sad.

MARSHALL NICHOLS: We just want to help stop the shooting, like from everyone. Not just at school and those kids, like everyone. We want this world to be lived in peace.

Tomorrow, that craving will find voice both here and across the country, with and without expressed political demands.