Hundreds Participate in Student-led Patriot HS Walkout for Stoneman Douglas

| February 21, 2018 | 0 Comments | Education

Patriot students who participated in the Feb. 21 walkout gather at the stadium bleachers to hear Megan Black speak. (Photo courtesy of Megan Black and Olivia Mumma.)

Hundreds of Patriot High School students participated in a student-led walkout of their high school in Nokesville, Prince William County, Virginia, Feb 21 at noon. Students exited the building and gathered on the football field for 17 minutes.

The walkout was intended in recognition of 17 students and staff members at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who died one week ago. The walkout was also a protest signifying Patriot student’s desire for stronger gun restrictions.

Patriot students joined high school students across the nation wanting to make a public statement about the Parkland tragedy one week later.

According to Principal Dr. Michael Bishop, the walkout was not sanctioned by the administration; however, students were not stopped at the doorways.

“We ensured they were safe,” he said.

Bishop sent a letter to Patriot parents Wednesday afternoon, in which he called the event an “organized walkout” and said further disruptions would lead to disciplinary action.

“This event caused a disruption to the school day and was not sanctioned or condoned by the school administration. After 17 minutes outside of the building, students returned to class. Students who left class had his or her attendance marked accordingly,” Bishop said in his statement.

Students were not penalized except for missing part of their classes, but going forward that would no longer be the case said Bishop. “Further disruptions to the school day or learning environment would warrant disciplinary consequences as outlined in the PWCS ’Code of Behavior.’”

Dr. Steven Walts, Superintendent of PWCS, sent a letter to parents and students outlining the guidelines and restrictions for demonstrations of free speech. It noted that student walkouts are prohibited.

However, Walts began the letter by thanking the students for wanting to voice their concerns about the tragic shooting in Florida.

He explained the various safety and security measures that PWCS has implemented to keep students safe.

PWCS continues to work with law enforcement, to provide staff and student safety training, and to upgrade our school buildings with new features toward providing the greatest possible protection for our students and staff. It is unwise to publicly share details of building-by-building security measures. However, in addition to measures like active shooter drills, our website provides an overview of safety approaches we use in response to a variety of potential dangers. In addition, since we cannot and should not turn schools into fortresses, your continued help in promptly reporting any potential threats or concerns remains a key element in keeping our schools safe.

And, he encouraged students to protest in a school sanctioned way or on their own time.

However, Patriot Seniors Megan Black and Olivia “Liv” Mumma are not apologizing for the walkout that they organized along with help from others.

Tuesday night, they created a Twitter account, involving the tag “SOS” meaning “Save Our Schools.” Inspired by Parkland students, they hoped to advocate for some gun control especially for the types of guns often used in school shootings. They also hoped to start a student movement in Northern Virginia.

While they knew some schools were planning walkout, there was no plan for Patriot. Then, during the morning announcements they were informed that the administration would not allow walkouts.

Disappointed at the administrative decree, Megan Black decided then and there to plan a walkout.

“This happened really, really suddenly,” said Black. “That was the moment that Liv and I said ‘we had to do it.”

They message began to spread around the school. They would meet outside at noon, fifth period, Black’s lunch period. They will stay outside for 17 minutes in memory of the 17 Stoneman Douglas students and teachers who lost their lives. They would name the students, make a statement against gun violence and for gun control and have a moment of silence.

Black hoped to get 30 plus students to participate. However, at noon hundreds of students walked outside and headed towards the stadium.

“Liv and I went out there first, and they were already at the door waiting. It hit noon and people just started pouring out of classrooms,” she said.

Black said she felt strongly about the walkout because she felt she could have been one of those students gunned down in her classroom.

The two girls were freshman in October of 2014 when the school went into lockdown. Police believed there could have been an active shooter on campus when a murder suspect’s car was located at T. Clay Wood Elementary School adjacent parking lot. While buses to T. Clay were rerouted to another school, Patriot’s day was already in session.

It was later discovered that after fleeing the murder scene, the man parked his car at Patriot and committed suicide on campus, but for a few hours, students and staff could only imagine how bad the situation could get. For many, the experience was traumatizing.

“I was a freshman. I spent three or four hours on lockdown with a bunch of crying kids because we thought we were going to get shot,” said Black. “I think that definitely affected me and the other seniors.”

The Parkland tragedy reawakened their fears, especially since many students viewed photos and videos online. “That definitely makes it feel more real for us. We felt that we were almost there [in Parkland.]”

An anxious person as it is, she said she believes that Patriot High School has excellent security, but it does not alleviate her fear of a school shooting.

Black always carries her phone with her even though it is discouraged,. She feels she would need to get in touch with her mom should anything happen. She notes that there have been instances of school shootings her whole life, so this is just her reality, but she wishes it didn’t have to be. She wants to be one of the  students who will change things in the nation.

The Patriot girls are inspired by the Parkland survivors who have become gun control activists. Black viewed Emma Gonzales speech and felt incredibly inspired. With support of their parents, the student hope to continue political action such as talking to lawmakers and participating in the March 24th March for Our Lives in D.C.

They want legislative change. As Mumma explained, young people are easily purchasing guns intended to kill dozens of people at a time. Even people who have made disturbing comments are able to purchase those kinds of rapid-fire weapons.

Black hopes the school division does provide an opportunity for students to participate in walkouts as she wish they had been allowed to on Wednesday.

“I really wish that. There are so many other schools across the nation that are supporting their students and walking out. We are standing up for a really good cause…really this walking out is a show of how many students are in support and I feel that we cannot do that in any other way.”

Mumma said she knew that taking action was risky but she felt, for her, it was an imperative.

“This the only way we can get our word out,” she said, explaining her generation knows more about the issues than adults acknowledge.

“The reality is we do know what’s happening. We don’t want [school shootings] to happen again. We want to have our voices heard because no one else is representing us.”

The two seniors plan to participate in other forms of activism and hope Patriot can be a part of their activism.

The administration at PWCS is anticipating the anniversary of the Columbine shooting will be a day many students will want to recognize and is planning a school-sanctioned event.

“We are working to find appropriate ways to allow students who wish to participate to do so safely, without forcing the involvement of others, violating PWCS rules, or disrupting teaching and learning,” wrote Walts.

At the Feb. 21 school board meeting, Walts clarified that he wants to work with principals and student leaders to allow students to make a statement on April 20. He just wants to make sure it is well-organized and does not force anyone to participate. He said he is very interested in bringing awareness to safe schools.

Mumma hopes it will be impactful, saying she wanted to do something that would get people’s attention, including lawmakers. She said she would not have been satisfied to take some of the advice she received and just make t-shirts and post photos on Twitter. “What we’re looking for is change, not some photo-op.”

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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