A group of students file into a science classroom amid a nervous din of chatter, the air is electric with excitement and nervousness. This small group of approximately 30 students are a studious bunch, largely members of the sophomore class with squeaky clean administrative histories. They are currently preparing to defy authority and stand up for what they believe in, even though they had been warned of portentous consequences.
The history of mass gun violence in our country is vast and bloodstained; the Sandy Hook and Columbine shootings are two examples that stand out in the memory of America but the violence continues into the present. Most recently, a lethal day in Parkland Florida took the lives of 17 individuals, including both teachers and students. This tragic situation has a silver lining, however, as it has triggered a renewed sense of fervor across the nation and many students are feeling the need to make their voices heard. Via social media and word of mouth, a protest was planned for any student who wished to participate and stand up for their safety as well as commemorate lives previously lost to mass shootings. High schoolers would walk out of their classes for 17 minutes to honor the 17 lives lost at Parkland and to protest gun violence as a whole.
As far as protests go, this one is tame; it wouldn't be any more disruptive to class then when students excuse themselves to use the restroom or get a drink of water. There is no negative effect on any student with conflicting views, or those who don't want to participate for any reason. In short, the walkout would be peaceful and non intrusive.
Students of New Providence High School are eager to show their support to the victims of gun violence and join the nationwide walkout. Unfortunately for these students, an email is sent out to each student just days before the protest from the principal of the school, Lauren Zirpoli. Said email informs students that the walkout will be moved to 2:40 pm. This makes the walkout obsolete, as school is dismissed at 2:40. Students being told we are permitted to “walk out” at 2:40 is pointless and condescending. The email also included vague and ominous threats of punishment if students proceed to walk at the previously scheduled time, which could range anywhere from suspension to detention.
As a student of New Providence High School, I can understand the risks and reasons why the administration would take issue with the walkout at its scheduled time, but these risks are dwarfed by the meaning behind the protest. For instance, security risks remain the same whether we protest at 10:00 a.m. or 2:40 p.m. I interviewed several peers to find out the significance this walkout holds for them personally. One student who wishes to remain anonymous explained her view. “In education, we shouldn’t have to fear for our safety. That shouldn’t be valued over 17 minutes of class time. It’s not that much of an inconvenience where we should have to sacrifice our values. Even if we can get people discussing [the issue] and trying to take action, it could make a difference.” I asked another student to share their connection with the damaging effects of gun violence. “I lived 20 minutes away from the town in Connecticut, so I distinctly remember the day that the Sandy Hook shooting happened...it's moments like that where you realize how severe the issue is. It’s not just about guns, it's about people's lives, little kids' lives, that are being compromised for the sake of the second amendment...more has to be done to ensure that guns don't fall into the wrong hands and that people cant use bulk ammunition to commit acts of violence against students.” It is recognized that there is a risk involved in protesting, but that risk and any other qualms are far outweighed by the importance of the cause.
It is important to note that the walkout isn't an attack on the school or any member of the administration. The purpose that has been recognized by our students as well as students nationwide is to demonstrate to congress that America’s youth holds a passion in our hearts for preventing mass gun violence and that we as a society are calling into question the current policy on weapons in America. Mass shootings have plagued the US for decades, and congress remains stagnant on the issue; it makes sense that the youth is beginning to take initiative. With this walkout, we are demanding action in response to the horrific mass murders that we have come to fear each day as we enter our place of education.
In school, we are taught to view the world critically, whether that pertains to solving a math equation or analyzing motives for social justice movements in history. It shouldn’t be surprising when we choose to stand up for what we believe in, it should be expected and encouraged. The school should celebrate independently minded individuals who stand up peacefully for what they believe in and think critically about the world around them.