It involved a small group and not a single word was spoken, but the message was clear – nothing was going to stop three Carroll County High School students from standing up against school violence on Friday.
Students all over the country walked out of classes Friday in an effort to keep national focus on stopping school violence on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. In Carroll County, only CCHS students Izzy Largen, Joy Miller and Anastazya Lewis participated in the national event. They were joined by a group of about 10 adult supporters in a small ceremony in front of the Carroll County Governmental Complex.
After leaving school, the trio met with the adult group at the Carroll Wellness Center’s picnic shelter. Holding signs, the group marched together up Beaver Dam Trail to the government center, where they joined together in solidarity for a 15-minute moment of silence – one minute each for the 15 lives lost during the Columbine school shooting.
Miller’s sign was short and to the point, proclaiming ‘Never Again, #Enough.’ Lewis held a sign stating, “Before we SOLVE a problem, we must first admit there IS a problem.” Largen’s sign listed the number of people killed in several school shootings in recent years, including Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Both Largen and Lewis were two of the approximately 20 kids given afterschool detention for skipping school after an earlier walkout on March 20 aimed at showing support for victims of the Parkland shooting.
“I want to make it clear that this isn’t a political petty thing between us (and the school system), it’s not. This is about us speaking for what we believe in and pushing through boundaries set up by people in higher power to do that,” Largen said. “It is not about just doing it because we were told not to, that is not what this is about for us. And this shouldn’t be about what the school did or what (Superintendent Dr. Shirley Perry) said, it should be about what our message is, which is there shouldn’t be any more school shootings and we should do something about it. “And I am not going to specify more gun control or more mental health control but I think something needs to be done and I think that people need to open up their ears and think and not just immediately go to, ‘You can’t take my gun away’ as soon as a school shooting happens.”
Students had planned to walk out as part of a larger national event March 14. Carroll County schools were closed that day due to snow, however, so several students decided to take part in a make-up walkout on March 20 that led to students being disciplined. School officials cited safety concerns as well as missing class as major reasons for the punishment. Three school outreach phone calls were sent to parents in the days leading up to second walkout Friday that echoed those concerns.
“Dear parents and guardians. Student safety is our top priority. In an effort to maintain a safe school environment, Carroll County High School will not support or endorse future walkouts,” the outreach call stated. “The school administration is aware of students planning a walkout for April 20 from 9:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. The students are planning an early dismissal and to leave school campus. Early student dismissals require parental permission with a call to the school or signing their child out of school. Any student actions or behaviors that are in violation of the Carroll County Public Schools Student Handbook will be disciplined according to policy. Administration is mindful of students’ desire to express themselves and their right to do so in a manner that should not reasonably be likely to disrupt the educational environment or a violation of school policy. Administration invites students to identify expressive activities that do not interfere with the learning of others and the daily operations of the school.”
Largen said she felt the outreach calls prevented more students from attending Friday. She said the three students who did participate each went through the approved steps of getting early dismissals. But she felt like many parents did not want their kids to take part.
“The main issue I think with the number that came was a lot of parents didn’t want their kids out. I know we have friends that their parents are on the opposite side of the spectrum so they wouldn’t call them out of school because they didn’t believe in what their kids believed in,” Largen said. “That was a big issue, and then a lot of parents I think were scared their kids would be punished because of the three calls sent out to parents that there would be consequences.”
The main thing on the agenda Friday was making sure students’ concerns were aired about the need to stop school violence. Lewis agreed with Largen that it remains a huge problem on many levels.
“There should be something done and people should care more about their kids than guns and about their future kids and even kids that aren’t theirs because there are other families that are going to be hurt by their own kid dying,” Lewis said. “It is not okay for any kid or adult or teacher to die from someone just coming into a school and shooting them. We need safer schools.”
Janet Tate was one of the adults who came in support of the student-led walkout. She held a sign that read “Moral Principles Over Partisanship #WhatWouldJesusDo?” There were many reasons she wanted to join students Friday.
“I think it is important for students to have a voice. They go to school and they should feel safe in their school and I just think it is important to support them because I was a part also of the original march that the ministers put together and people put some nasty comments on Facebook,” Tate said. “People were on the sidewalk yelling mean things and we just didn’t want these young folks to be by themselves without some emotional support…We just felt like we should support these amazing young people because it is not easy to stand up to authority.”
Abby Nicolo and her two-year-old son Amos also attended the walkout in support. Mother and child also came with a sign that simply said, “Enough.”
“I am just in such awe of all of these young empowered high school students that are standing up for what they believe in and so I wanted to show them that I support them as well. It was a really positive experience,” Nicolo said. “There is so much adversity and they have so many people against them, even in their own school district.”
Dr. Perry was away from Central Office on Friday. After the protest, the students left their signs at her office so the Superintendent would be able to see what the protest was about.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN