Adults outnumbered their young counterparts at a student-organized walkout protesting gun violence Friday that started at Del Norte High School.
Despite a warning from school administrators that those with unexcused absences could face Saturday school as a consequence for missing class and walking off campus, a handful of students picked up signs calling for “policy and change,” walked out of Mike Whalen Field and headed down Washington Boulevard to the Del Norte Wellness Center to rally.
Protesters were later invited to the Del Norte County Democratic headquarters for pizza.
“It’s hard to be brave every day when the administrators don’t take us seriously; when the adults don’t take us seriously as people,” said Avi Critz, a Del Norte High School senior who helped organize the DNHS Walkout in Support of Common Sense Gun Laws. “It’s time for kids to speak up. Speak up against that fear, that barrier that people put against us. The kids that are here today, thank you so much for walking out. You are so brave. We are proud of you for standing with us.”
In an all-call message to parents Thursday morning, DNHS Principal Randy Fugate said while the school supports students exercising their First Amendment rights, Friday’s walkout is not a sanctioned event and those with unexcused absences will be assigned a Saturday school as a consequence for truancy.
In his message, Fugate said school officials are primarily concerned with student safety and while several adults will be in the area while the protesters are assembled, they would not be able to remain with the students if they left campus. DNHS officials also contacted district administration and local law enforcement to help ensure student safety during the protest, according to Fugate’s message.
“This is an excellent opportunity for you to talk as a family about your values and expectations concerning this event,” Fugate said in his message.
Critz said she didn’t realize students could face Saturday school as a consequence for participating in the walk out until Thursday when her band teacher informed her. School administrators relied on parents to tell their children that there may be consequences to participating in the walk out, she said. Some students didn’t participate because they didn’t want a Saturday school on their record, Critz said.
In an interview with the Triplicate on Friday, Fugate said he didn’t share the warning he sent to parents with his students because Saturday school as a consequence for truancy is the school’s standard policy.
“Kids know if they’re caught skipping they have Saturday school,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to bill this as a beat down for kids, but kids already do know.”
When asked about the school’s response an impromptu protest against gun violence on March 24, Fugate said those students began walking out of the school building during their break. The protest was on campus and lasted only a few minutes, he said.
Fugate said the school would not issue Saturday school to students who were a few minutes tardy to class. But if the March 24 protest had lasted for an hour, Saturday school could have been a potential consequence for participating students since they would have missed class, he said.
A few minutes before Friday’s protest, Del Norte High School senior and walkout organizer Brayden L. Hatch said he and his fellow students want to let their national, state and local representatives know that there has been too many gun deaths and that’s something that needs to be discussed.
“We need to discuss it, change it and try and get to a compromise where everybody is semi-happy with it,” Hatch said. “Not everybody’s going to be happy with the fact there will probably be more regulations on guns in the U.S., but at least we can kind of balance the liberty for firearms with the fact that we need gun safety more in this nation.”
Hatch, who noted the last time a large number of young people spoke out was during Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, also called for Congress giving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the free reign and resources to delve into firearm research.
“There is something wrong and we need to discuss it,” Hatch said. “We need to have a civil conversation whether it be on Facebook or in our Congress; especially in Congress.”
Kobey Adams, another DNHS senior, called for healing a rift between teachers and students. He noted that while some teachers are trusted adults that form a bond with individual students, others “are nothing more than educators who give whatever’s on the syllabus.”
“Teachers don’t know what their students are going through,” he said. “They don’t know the students with dangerous ideologies. They don’t know the students that are suffering daily. Everything is just kind of left in the dark and we need to fix this. Teachers need to be aware that these issues are in fact there and they need to be authorized to provide help if at all possible.”
Critz called for administrators and other school officials to allow students like her to have a say in some of the policy decisions made at the district level that affect her and her peers. She said she was angry when she found out that students participating in the walk out could receive Saturday school and noted that she and other students have participated in active shooter drills multiple times.
“I’m a high school senior, most of the seniors in this class are adults — they’re 18, they’re legally adults,” Critz said. “But to a lot of other members in our community and some of our administrators, they aren’t seen as adults. They are children who go to school and if they’re children they know nothing. We have lived in these schools all our lives and we have gone through these drills. We know them and we know the weight that it gives us.”
In a brief statement, Mike Thornton, an organizer with True North Organizing Network, invited participants in the protest to attend a “Whose Schools? Our Schools” event at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Family Resource Center of the Redwoods, 494 Pacific Ave., Crescent City.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .