Arkansans were among the hundreds of thousands of students nationally who walked out of their schools Wednesday morning -- some under threat of being disciplined -- to remember last month's Parkland, Fla., shooting victims and to call for greater gun control.
At Little Rock's historic 2,200-student Central High School, hundreds of teenagers streamed down the front stairs and filled the expansive lawn just before the 10 a.m. time set for the #Enough National School Walkout.
"Enough is enough," Erin Farmer, Central High student body president, told the crowd of her peers. "We have lost too many students to gun violence at school. We are here to take classes in math and science. We should not have to take classes on how to dodge bullets. We are kids. We are supposed to come here to learn, not to lose our lives."
"Books Not Bullets!" the students chanted. "This is what democracy looks like," they called out in unison, while some hoisted signs declaring "Central Stands with Parkland," "Don't ignore mental health," and "Arm Teachers with Knowledge Not Guns."
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Photos by Brandon Riddle
Photos by Brandon Riddle
The National School Walkout, promoted by Empower, the youth wing of the Women's March organization, occurred on the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 attack by an armed intruder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A 19-year-old, one-time student at the school has been charged in the massacre that killed 17 and injured others.
The 17-minute demonstrations at schools across the country Wednesday were meant to memorialize the 17 victims and draw attention to what some students and teachers see as inaction on gun violence in schools.
At Central High, Emma Jewell, a senior and one of the walkout organizers, said she feels unsafe -- "like a sitting duck" -- in school and that the nation's gun laws are ineffective in stopping campus shootings. While she opposes the arming of teachers, she said she would like to see enhanced background checks for people purchasing guns and a ban on the sale of assault rifles.
Students at other Little Rock School District schools, including Forest Heights STEM Academy and Pulaski Heights Middle School, also participated in different kinds of demonstrations. Hall High students released heart-shaped balloons. J.A. Fair High had a memorial assembly.
In the neighboring Pulaski County Special School District, Maumelle High -- which was locked down Friday after a report of a person in the parking lot wearing a mask and holding a gun -- had an assembly during which Maumelle Police Chief Sam Williams and Principal Jeff Senn answered questions from students about police work in such instances. Three teens were arrested and charged, and a BB gun was recovered, all in connection with the Maumelle incident.
About 400 Bentonville High School students -- about 13 percent of the school's enrollment -- lined Southeast J Street for about an hour to chant slogans such as "No more silence, end the violence." Another 200 exited Bentonville's West High School. In both cases, students who participated can expect to be given detention, after the Bentonville School Board voted earlier in the week to apply the district's penalties to demonstrators.
At nearby Fayetteville High, an estimated 1,000 students gathered in the school courtyard at the time of the walkout without fear of facing sanctions. As many as 400, who had permission slips to do so, then marched to the Washington County Courthouse.
"Let this generation go down in history as solving the problem when we saw the need," said Becca Tomlinson, a student.
At Fort Smith Northside High, students gathered in the school stadium for the 17-minute observance. Southside High students met in the school's courtyard. Some students from the Belle Point New Tech Academy also participated in the observance, meeting around the flagpole on the school grounds.
Students stood in silence, some holding hands, some making impromptu comments. School staff members stood by but did not participate, school district spokesman Zena Featherston said.
More than 200 Arkansas High School students in Texarkana participated in the walkout, standing silently and holding hands in a show against gun violence in schools, district leaders reported later in the day.
"I cannot imagine something so tragic happening at my school, but we must all do our part and work to embrace everyone within our school community," senior Christina Cannady told her classmates.
At the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, a public residential school in Hot Springs for gifted juniors and seniors, about 70 students participated in the walkout, said Donnie Sewell, public information specialist. Students participated, despite school director Corey Alderdice telling students beforehand that standard penalties for class tardies would be applied. Alderdice later commended the student demonstrators.
Across the nation, students gathered in auditoriums and gymnasiums, many choosing to wear orange, the color of the movement against gun violence, or maroon, the school color at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, according to news accounts.
Some of the day's most poignant demonstrations occurred at schools where mass shootings had occurred, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida.
"We're with you," a woman shouted from the sidewalk to hundreds of students crowded onto the school's football field. Others took up the chant.
In Newtown, Conn., where 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, hundreds of students filed out of Newtown High School just moments before 10 a.m. and gathered in a parking lot near the football field. Some held posters.
The district's interim superintendent, Lorrie Rodrigue, said this month that school officials had "worked closely with student leaders to create a time for respectful student expression," according to School Board minutes. Rodrigue said she viewed the protests as an extension of social studies classes.
At Columbine High School near Denver, the site of the 1999 killing of 13 people, hundreds of students gathered on a soccer field. They waved signs -- "this is our future" -- and released a bouquet of balloons in red, white and blue. Afterward, 16-year-old junior Kaylee Tyner stood at the edge of the field, next to Frank DeAngelis, who was the principal when the attack occurred.
"We have grown up watching more tragedies occur and continuously asking: Why?" she said. "Why does this keep happening?"
Advocates for gun rights reacted Wednesday to the demonstrations.
The National Rifle Association said on Twitter, "Let's work together to secure our schools and stop school violence."
The association then tweeted: "I'll control my own guns, thank you."
The Gun Owners of America, a smaller organization that calls itself "the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington," urged its supporters to call their elected officials to oppose gun-control measures, and it celebrated students who sat out of the walkout.
The demonstrations moved beyond school property in some cities.
In Washington, students gathered outside the White House and on Capitol Hill. More than 2,000 high-school-age protesters observed the 17 minutes of silence by sitting on the ground with their backs turned to the White House as a church bell tolled. President Donald Trump was in Los Angeles at the time.
Protesters carried signs with messages such as "Our Blood/Your Hands" and "Never Again" and chanted slogans against the NRA.
In New York, students marched in the streets to central locations such as Lincoln Center, Columbus Circle and Battery Park.
New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, stretched out on the sidewalk as part of a "lie-in" with students in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the former home of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the local union, joined them.
A nor'easter that buried Boston in snow and left many schools closed and disrupted the protest plans. But hundreds of students still gathered at a Boston church before marching to the Statehouse, where they planned to lobby lawmakers to pass new gun regulations.
"I feel like there is a certain power in kids standing up for themselves and standing up for their safety," said Esmay Price Jones, 14, a Somerville High School freshman.
At other schools, students created symbols to try to represent the tragedy. At Cooper City High, near Parkland, Fla., students gathered around 14 empty desks and three podiums arranged in a circle outside the school, representing the 14 students and three faculty members killed in last month's shooting. The students then released 17 doves from a box.
Some schools applauded students for taking a stand or at least tolerated the walkouts, while others threatened disciplinary action.
The Bentonville School Board had voted earlier this week to uphold district policy, causing students who chose to participate in the walkout to be counted absent and assigned detention.
In the Conway School District, about 50 high school students and 10 junior high students participated in the walkout Wednesday and were considered truant, Heather Kendrick, a spokesman for the Conway district said. Saturday School is the consequence for a first-time truancy violation, she said.
Alderdice, director of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, who had said penalties for the walkout would be applied, commended the participating students for choosing to "show solidarity with their peers nationally and for using all tools of civic engagement available to them.
"Enforcing a low-level sanction for an unexcused absence was never intended to stifle participation but to provide a framework for the realities of engaging in civil disobedience both now and in adulthood, "Alderdice said in a statement Wednesday. "Taking a stand often involves some level of risk and consequence. ASMSA is a place where learning is not only measured by success in the classroom but also in personal growth."
Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore said earlier that students would not be disciplined for participation, and he and his staff made arrangements to provide support to the campuses.
Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau called Wednesday's walkout, which ended with the release of white balloons into the blue sky, as "powerful" a history lesson as anyone could have delivered.
Information for this article was contributed by Dave Hughes and Debra Hale-Shelton of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Dave Perozek and Ashton Eley of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; staff members of The New York Times and The Associated Press.
Students at Hall High School in Little Rock take part in a walkout Wednesday morning in remembrance of victims killed last month during a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and to call for more gun control.
Metro on 03/15/2018
Print Headline: Arkansas kids join walkout; Students across U.S. exit schools, honor shooting victims