High schoolers throughout the Bay Area plan to join in a nation-wide walkout from class for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. Wednesday in a statement against gun violence a month after a former student fatally shot 17 classmates and staff at a Parkland, Florida high school.
The walkout was organized by Women’s March Youth Empower, a group of high school and college students from around the country.
“We are living in an age where young people like us do not feel safe in our schools,” the group said on its campaign website. The group asks students “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”
Authorities allege that on Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz strode into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where he had been expelled, and fatally shot 14 students, a teacher, a coach and the athletic director. Cruz allegedly used a military-style semiautomatic rifle he purchased legally.
The incident reignited the nation’s impassioned debate over guns, much like earlier school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Columbine, Colorado.
Hiwad Haider, a senior at Prospect High School and spokesman for March For Our Lives San Jose, said students are “working to bring attention to the need for a more comprehensive response to gun violence.”
Notre Dame San Jose, a private Catholic college preparatory school, is supporting students who will march on the sidewalk around the block and at 10:14 a.m., will ring the campus bell inviting students to stop and link arms.
“The goal is to have everyone around the entire block connected,” school spokeswoman Brigitte Heiser said. “They will then stand for three minutes in silence and memory of the lives lost and impacted by gun violence across the country.”
At Cupertino High School, students plan to march to the bus circle in the front of the school and give speeches in honor of the victims of the Parkland shooting.
Brandon Combs, president of the California-based Firearms Policy Coalition, said “these kids should be fighting for real school security, not skipping class and throwing tantrums to promote gun control laws that hurt law-abiding people.”
He said students should be seeking better security at their campuses, noting that courthouses, airports and other government facilities are much better protected than schools.
“Until laws are enacted that actually protect our children and teachers with real physical security barriers, controlled access to school grounds, and armed quick-response officers on every campus, our children and the people entrusted to care for them at places of learning will remain at risk,” Combs said.
At John F. Kennedy High School in Fremont, students have made mock tombstones noting various deadly school shootings and calling for amendments to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees a right to bear arms.
“They wanted to have more of a message rather than just get out of class,” said Carol Graham, a foster parent of two girls at Kennedy who came up with the idea. She said she and her husband own guns, hunt and teach their girls how to handle firearms, but still want limits on them, like a higher age limit to buy them.
Organizers nationally and at most schools haven’t identified specific specific changes in the law they hope to inspire. Women’s March Youth Empower states on its website that “we are walking out for ALL people who have experienced gun violence, including systemic forms of gun violence that disproportionately impact teens in Black and Brown communities.”
“It is important that when we refer to gun violence, we do not overlook the impact of police brutality and militarized policing, or see police in schools as a solution,” Women’s March Youth Empower stated. “We also recognize the United States has exported gun violence through imperialist foreign policy to destabilize other nations. We raise our voices for action against all these forms of gun violence.”
While school administrators generally have been supportive, some have indicated concerns about class disruption and the safety of students if they leave campus.
Chris Funk, superintendent of East Side Union High School District said he encouraged school administrators to work with student leaders to create safe places on campus for students to speak, but said students need “to be clear on what they’re advocating for.”
The Parkland students, he said, have been articulate and clear in their calls for specific gun measures.
“Organizations have their own agendas and they’re using kids as pawns,” Funk added. The Women’s March organizers, Funk said, “have their own agenda. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying students need to understand what they’re walking out on.”
“I don’t want to stop kids from self-advocating,” Funk said. “But I don’t think a one-time walkout is going to serve the purpose.”
Instead, Funk suggested, students need ongoing dialogue in classrooms and open mics.
Teachers and staff will monitor walkouts to make sure students are safe, Funk said, but not participate or endorse the walkouts. Students who participate will face consequences, which will depend on how long they are off campus and how they behave.
Anusha Kondiparti is one of the students planning to walk out of Evergreen Valley High School.
The school, like others in the East Side Union High School District, will create space for students to memorialize the Parkland victims, but won’t condone students leaving campus.
But Kondiparti worries that won’t spark the same attention — or change — students want to see around gun laws and thinks “it takes away our right to practice civil disobedience.”
Kondiparti and several friends are planning what they’re calling an “alternative” walkout beginning at 10 a.m. at the school and ending with a rally at Evergreen Village Square about a mile away.
“I believe that conversation is vital for the brewing of revolutionary ideas,” Kondiparti said.
Lauren Kelly, the school’s principal, directed a request for comment to Funk’s office.
At Santa Teresa High School in the same district, principal Greg Louie sent a note to families saying students will be permitted to peaceably assemble on the football field.
But, Louie wrote, “if students leave campus, we will not restrain them, but they will receive a Saturday School referral for violating the closed campus policy.”
At the Campbell Union School District, Superintendent Shelly Viramontez said in a March 1 letter on the district’s website that “while we support families making their concerns and voices heard, we do not feel students missing valuable instructional time sends the desired message to those who can make legislative decisions.”
The district encouraged parents and school staff “to consider alternatives to missing school time,” including, such as writing or calling lawmakers, signing petitions and participating in events outside of school hours, such as a local March for Our Lives planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, March 24, at San Jose City Hall.