Harrisites join nationwide student walkout

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The school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has prompted nationwide calls for action from students, teachers, parents, and legislatures regarding gun violence and safety in schools. On March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting, a National School Walkout is scheduled to take place at 10:00 AM. Mayor Bill de Blasio has voiced his support for the walkout, which will last 17 minutes in honor of the 17 lives lost in the Parkland shooting.

Principal Brian Condon assured that the student council and faculty are working “to allow all students to participate in the memorial in a safe and orderly way.” In addition, as per the Department of Education’s letter, students will not be punished for participating in this walkout as long as they return to class immediately after the walkout ends (unless they have parent permission to leave afterwards). The letter frames the walkout as a teachable moment: “As part of our Civic Education for All initiative, we are encouraging teachers to facilitate discussions on current events in greater depth, and from multiple points of view.”

At Townsend Harris High School, students will walk to the Queens College quad and are encouraged to wear maroon, silver, and gold, which are the colors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and THHS.

Taking to social media to further publicize the movement for updated gun laws and gather support for the protests taking place nationally, senior Aaron Fernando and junior Max Kurant, with the help of the Student Union, created a Facebook page called “Townsend Harris for Gun Reform.”

“Our goal is to really be out there and to be seen,” Max explained. “We want to get as many people to participate in the walkout and other events as possible so people can see how serious and active this movement is.”

Sophomore Christina Ramsarran explained that various platforms for voicing opinions on current gun laws, including social media, allow for amplified discussion as well as for “making adults aware that the younger generations will not tolerate anything that we don’t find appropriate for our society.”

Among hearing about the National School Walkout, teachers and students alike have voiced their opinions on current gun laws and the need for reform. Spanish teacher Christian Castillo believes this walkout will allow “the voices of the ones who are affected to be noticed and heard.”

Sophomore Nicole Luzuriaga added, “There needs to be a change because our schools cannot afford to face anymore shootings. The school shooting in Sandy Hook in 2014 should have been enough to put a stop to school shootings. Another school shooting should not have to happen for there to be a change.”

Humanities teacher Jessica Stillman graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 1999. “It’s been surreal,” she described. “When I first heard that the school was on lock down from my mom and other alumni, I just thought everyone was overreacting, but then I realized that it wasn’t a false alarm. It was chilling to see such a familiar place in videos that students captured during the shooting.”

She added, “One thing that makes Douglas so unique is that it is a fairly new school, [and] so the alumni are young, active, and ready to fight. It’s very important for everyone to be empowered right now and for students to feel engaged in this discussion. They should do what they believe is right. If you choose to participate in the walkout, know what you are walking out for, know why you are personally walking out.”

This walkout is not the only demonstration taking place. After the walkout, Coalition Z (a NYC high school group) is organizing an “evening of action” at the Quakers’ 15th Street Meetinghouse, which is designed to reach out to strategize about how to move forward on gun control.

On March 24, there will be an important march in Washington D.C., as well as sister marches in other areas such as New York City. Another walkout of this nature is scheduled for April 20 at 10:00 AM. Ms. Stillman is working with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz to have each high school in Queens represented in the New York City marches so that all students can come together and say “never again to another school shooting.”

The Classic will broadcast the walkout live through Facebook.

Additional reporting by Daniela Zavlun and Nataniela Zavlun