On Wednesday, March 14, students from Queen’s Grant High School and Independence High School joined their peers from across the country in participating in the National School Walkout.
At 10:00 am, students nationwide walked out of their classes. The 17-minute walkout was in part a memorial to the 17 students who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one month ago in Parkland, Florida: one minute for each life lost that day.
“We chose to initiate a walkout at Queen’s Grant High School because we believed that we needed to give every victim that died in the Parkland shooting a moment of silence,” said Queen’s Grant student Yousef. “We also wanted to show that anyone can speak out against the violence in schools. No one should fear being in school and worry that they may not come home.”
Students walked out of their classes on Wednesday not only in tribute to those lost in Florida but also to demand change. According to EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March and the main national voice fostering participation in Wednesday’s walkouts, the walkouts were meant to draw lawmakers’ attention to the issue of gun violence and inadequate support for those suffering from mental illness. Among their demands are banning assault style weapons, requiring universal background checks before gun sales, and passing a gun violence “restraining order” that would allow courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.
“I was proud to participate in the walkout to bring awareness against the uprising violence in schools because it is crucial for students to speak out against this issue,” said Queen’s Grant student Josie. “This issue directly affects all of us, and by raising awareness, we can encourage administration and even people in office to find ways to make our schools a safer place.”
Queen’s Grant’s walkout, like others across the nation, was student-organized and driven. Students themselves scheduled an information meeting, made flyers, and worked with school administration to make sure the walkout went smoothly. “I was incredibly proud of the hard work they put into planning and implementing the walkout,” said a Queen’s Grant faculty member who supported the students’ efforts.
Queen’s Grant students spent the 17 minutes in silence. Some locked arms in a circle. Others stood silently on their own. “I was really proud of our students, faculty and staff,” said Principal Michael Smith. “It was a positive experience.”
“As a parent of an Indy student, it made me proud to hear about today’s events,” said Robin Hall. “The day was peaceful, filled with speeches and thoughts of the 17 innocent people who lost their lives. The students deserve the right to be heard.”
According to the Charlotte Observer, over 1500 Independence students – more than half the school’s student body – participated in Wednesday’s school-sanctioned memorial where junior Marion Teshome read the names and ages of the students and teachers killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Independence students also held a voter registration drive, registering over 250 new voters.
Over 2500 schools nationwide and about a dozen Charlotte Mecklenburg schools participated in the National Student Walkout. Public, private and charter high schools across Mecklenburg, Gaston and Union counties saw walkouts, vigils and in-school civic engagement events. Numerous middle schools also participated.
Wednesday’s walkouts faced harsh criticism from vocal opponents on social media. Some critics argued that a walkout won’t do anything to fix the problem, advocating for a focus on mental health and inclusion rather than gun law reform.
“I know some people might have thought it was pointless to do it, that it would not change anything, but how could you know that?” said Queen’s Grant student Grace. “Change starts with us; therefore, taking a stand – not only as a school but as a nation – could mean adjustments to improve our school systems. The incident caused me to open my eyes and realize this could be any of us. I am very proud of the number of students and schools that participated in this occasion and I just hope that this is the beginning.”
Others criticized the timing of the protest, complaining about the disruption to the school day and missed class time. Some even suggested that students weren’t truly invested in the cause and simply wanted an excuse to get out of class.
“If you think a student-organized, student-led, peaceful walk out that lasts 17 minutes at which student leaders speak and after which all students return to class in orderly fashion isn’t part of education, I’m confused as to what you believe public school’s function is,” said Independence teacher Liz Rutkowski. “Today the students put into practice much of what school teaches them: paying attention to current events, knowing their rights, planning ahead, communicating a vision, public speaking, orderly conduct, listening to authority, speaking up, calling on government to represent the people. The immediate assumption that because it involves students it’s just a wasteful use of time designed for no purpose other than to disrupt learning only highlights how disconnected [many people] are from teenagers.”
Whether they agree or disagree with the cause of those who walked out on Wednesday, many people can agree that the level of civic engagement displayed by these young people offers hope for the future. “I like the fact that these kids are becoming aware of political issues and getting involved rather than simply focusing on dates and sports and fashion,” says Craig Propst, a father, grandfather and long-time Charlotte-area resident. “If it leads to more involvement in the system as adults who vote in most elections, that’s a good thing. The Parkland shooting has sparked something in these young people. It’s a start.”