High school students Jenna White, Seth Gorbet and Haylie Phillips formed a silent ring on the track at Mike Whalen field Wednesday and stood with their heads bowed for 17 minutes.
Led by Shelby Countess, White, Gorbet and Phillips were among about 60 Del Norte High School students who joined thousands of their peers nationwide to honor the 17 teens who lost their lives in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. one month ago.
“When we heard about 17 minutes for 17 kids, as fast as we could we tried to get everyone to (walk out) with us,” Countess said, adding she found out about the nationwide walkout at about 9:50 a.m. Wednesday. “We’re just supposed to come out here for 17 minutes and think about everything that happened and how it affected all those lives.”
In addition to this impromptu walk-out, which also involved students from Crescent Elk Middle School, another protest is scheduled for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. According to Del Norte High student Zoe Critz, that protest will also include a march.
Following the 17 minutes of silence, the Del Norte High School students discussed their own concerns about school safety. They praised their counselors and teachers, saying they were supportive when another student on Feb. 27 brandished a Nerf gun and said that a recent lockdown drill was successful.
“They’re doing the best they can to keep us safe,” Countess said.
But White, Gorbet, Phillips and others said they feel more lockdown drills are necessary to make sure they and their peers are prepared and can “understand the real consequences of what could happen.”
They discussed the need for better security at Del Norte High School, better background checks before someone can buy a gun, the pros and cons of gun control and steps students can take to look out for each other, especially for those who are bullied or are not among the popular crowd.
The students even brought up the idea of bringing their concerns before the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees.
“Our society’s become very numb to shootings,” Gorbet said. “They happen all the time now. People don’t care as much as they used to. If this happened 50 years ago the world would be in panic.”
Most of the students were adamantly opposed to arming teachers and staff.
“Even if the students don’t know the teacher’s armed it only takes a split second for the teacher to lose it on the class,” White said. “I for one will say that if teachers are armed, I will be homeschooled.”
Although this walk out was done on a spur of the moment, Del Norte High School Principal Randy Fugate said he and his staff have been speaking with those who are organizing the April 20 march, ensuring them it will be safe.
“We’re not sanctioning any walkouts because it’s not legal,” Fugate said. “But I officially support civic movements and responses. I think things like this are important for students to have a chance to have a voice and to take a stand on important issues.”
Students across the state also earned praise from California Teachers Association President Eric C. Heins.
“Thousands of students in California and across the nation took action today to make social change by focusing on stopping gun violence and keeping our schools safe,” Heins said in a written statement. “California’s educators proudly stand with the goals of this student-inspired call to action, but also made sure that students today had safe venues and activities to make their raising voices heard.”
Braydon Hatch said he has been working with other high school students to march on April 20 because he and others are scared. The protest might include college students as well as teachers and other adults. The students will walk to Mike Whalen field, gather there and head to the Democratic Party office on Northcrest Drive, he said.
“I want our legislators and our public officials to actually do something instead of just sit around,” Hatch said. “I don’t care whether they are pro gun or pro gun control, I want something done. I want comprehensive laws passed.”
Hatch said he’d like to see universal background checks required for people purchasing guns and a ban or severe restriction on assault rifles as well as high-capacity magazines.
“We’re scared and we want something done so we’re not scared to go to school,” Hatch said.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .