Students at Turlock and Pitman high schools will use their voices to promote social change Wednesday morning when they walk out of their classrooms in protest of gun violence.
The walkouts are a nationwide movement in which students, teachers and school administrators are encouraged to leave class at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to remember the 17 victims who died in the recent high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Inspired by students and championed by the Women’s March organization, students at THS and PHS participating in the walkouts will urge Congress to take action on stricter gun legislation.
“I think students have taken this upon themselves because we’re just like those kids in Parkland, and especially now with social media, it’s easy to see what they’ve been through,” said THS junior William Cooke, who has worked with a group of students to organize a Bulldog walkout. “It’s difficult for us to see our peers being murdered in places they’re supposed to be safe.”
Instagram accounts created for both high schools’ walkouts have nearly 200 followers each, and about that number of participants are expected at the events on both campuses. PHS students Alexia Avina and Frances Haydock have been working to spread word about the event on social media, they said, inspired by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who triggered a shift in the anti-gun violence movement.
“We’re trying to encourage more gun control because it’s really needed right now,” said Avina. “We’ve had gun threats at Pitman before, and whether it’s real or not, it’s terrifying. No one should have to go about their daily lives worrying that they could be shot. We shouldn’t be afraid to go to school.”
Demonstrations on both campuses will involve student speakers, and Avina hopes to inform PHS students about what they can do to demand Congress’ attention, from writing letters to calling their offices. THS students plan to stage a “lie-in,” symbolic of students who have lost their lives in school shootings.
“We know that change is slow and that this isn’t going to do anything directly, but I think that just being out there and showing politicians and grown ups in general that kids are paying attention and not going to sit back and relax is a powerful message,” said Cooke.
Social media has allowed students not in Parkland during the shooting to still see and feel the terror that went on at the high school on Valentine’s Day, said Cooke, and unlike any other school shooting before, this has sparked a massive wave of activism at schools throughout the nation.
“I think being able to see videos of kids on the ground, having been shot and crying in pain – that’s powerful,” he said. “Before, it was hard to put faces to names because it was just a list, so there was a disconnect. Now that’s gone, and social media has helped create these walkouts.
“I think that’s what this movement is about – what makes it unique is that kids are leading it this time.”
Turlock Unified School District is aware that some students have expressed an interest in participating in the approaching walkouts, and supports students’ rights related to freedom of speech. Students will not face repercussions for walking out of class, said TUSD, but will be disciplined if they leave campus or cause a disruption to the learning environment.
While students are free to protest, teachers are not, however.
“Our expectation is that staff will continue to fulfill their job duties unless requested by an administrator to supervise or assist in returning students to class,” said TUSD. “CA Ed Code provides clear guidelines on the prohibition of expression of political beliefs during the work day for public school employees.”
In a joint released statement, the California Teachers Association and Association of California School Administrators encouraged collaboration between district employees and students.
“Our hearts and minds are with our students and we are steadfast in supporting their activities across the nation and specifically in California. The California Teachers Association and the Association of California School Administrators encourage educators to provide students with a secure venue and substantive activities where their voices can be heard,” the statement reads. “We believe on-campus activities and collaboration between district employees and students can deliver a powerful message of unity.”
Both Avina and Clarke said that they often don’t feel safe on campus because of what happened in Florida, and hope the feeling can come to an end through student activism. Clarke said that he would like to see legislation that bans assault rifles, which was the weapon used in the Florida shooting.
“Our lives are more important that anyone’s right to own an assault rifle,” said Clarke. “We have a right to feel safe.”