On March 14, from 10:00 a.m. to 10:17 a.m., TPHS students, joining students from about 2,800 other schools across the country, marched to the quad from their third-period classes to participate in the National School Walkout organized by the Women’s March Youth Empower organization.
The walkout was described as a “call to action for Congress to pass gun control legislation,” according to the event’s official website. Each minute of the walkout was dedicated to one of the 17 students and teachers killed during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The walkout at TPHS was organized by three students: Sumin Hwang (12), Kiana Kazemi (12) and Hannah Berman-Schneider (12). According to Kazemi and Berman-Schneider, the purpose of the TPHS walkout was to give students an opportunity to voice their opinions on school shootings and larger issues related to guns, such as universal background checks for gun ownership and destigmatization of mental illness.
“What Kiana, Sumin and I were aiming for by creating the TPHS walkout was to prevent students from forgetting [about school shootings],” Berman-Schneider said.
When the three students first proposed their idea of doing a walkout at TPHS to administrators during a 30-minute meeting, the administration was “very cooperative and understanding,” about the idea, according to Kazemi.
According to Principal Rob Coppo, teachers were informed about the walkout and most did not impose any punitive actions on students for participating in it. Coppo, who started teaching in 1999, the year of the Columbine shooting that killed 12 students and one teacher in Colorado, says he understands students’ concerns about the Parkland shooting and violence in society.
“School shootings are one of the most horrific tragedies that we’ve recently come to have to deal with,” Coppo said. “Students in our schools feel vulnerable and voiceless sometimes because they are constantly cornered by rules.”
Throughout the walkout, Coppo and several staff members patrolled the school grounds to monitor students and confirm they were not engaged in any violence. Police cars were also stationed in the front and back parking lots to question students who left campus during the walkout.
Before the walkout, Islem Stringfellow (11) and his classmates felt a little wary about leaving their third period classes, even though Stringfellow’s teacher, Alexa Scheidler, had informed students she would inflict no punishment for participating.
“[When it was time,] everyone in the class walked out except for six students, and a lot of the students [who walked out] had a look of uncertainty on their faces,” Stringfellow said. “We all slowly got up from our seats, and when we did, our teacher pretended she didn’t see us.”
Out on the quad, a group of students surrounding Kazemi, Hwang and Berman-Schneider lifted their handmade posters in the air in an act of silent protest as they looked out on hundreds of other students who flocked the side tables and grass areas of the quad.
“We held up these beautiful, colorful posters that said ‘#i’vehadenoughof,’ followed by different expressions that we came up with,” Berman-Schneider said. “We also didn’t want students to just stand around for 17 minutes and not feel included, so Sumin and Kiana had the amazing idea of having them sign the petition that we are sending to Congress about this issue.”
The walkout was not meant to be a political message that favored a specific political ideology over another but an action of solidarity against gun violence, according to Kazemi and Berman-Schneider. Students, even those who are against proposed gun safety measures, were highly encouraged to practice their First Amendment rights by voicing their opinions and bringing their signs to the event, provided that they were not profane or insulting.
Tyrus Willden (12) is against banning guns and is “for as little gun control as possible except for when it comes to fully-automatic weapons.” Willden also believes in “keeping track of mentally-ill people and making sure some of them don’t have guns, without putting gun owners at risk.”
“I obviously [had] the minority position regarding the walkout and gun control,” Willden said. “So I thought it was necessary to have some sort of counter. I feel like Torrey Pines a lot of the time has only just one message [about gun control], so I wanted to offer an alternate message and start a conversation.”
Willden strongly disagrees with the claim there was no political message, from it being sponsored by the Women’s March to the many signs present during the walkout that specifically called for bans on assault weapons. As he had anticipated before participating in the walkout, Willden felt “unwelcome” and harshly criticized after holding the “Guns Save Lives” poster there.
“There were many snarky remarks to me … [that] attacked me personally,” Willden said. “After and during the event, I got rude messages, especially on social media, that were examined by even administration for a period of time.”
Presley Wollan (11) was among the participants who were angered by Willden’s sign. Wollan was also upset by the organization of the walkout, which she calls a “tag-along activity for many.”
“The walkout was very disrespectful,” Wollan said. “It was more of an activity instead of an actual event that should have been honoring the people we lost. The petitions were unnecessary, and [the walkout was] loud and obnoxious when it was supposed to be silent.”
Andrew Zhao (12) was a participant in the school walkout and thinks that the walkout was a positive experience that effectively relayed a message. His reasons for participating in the walkout included his concern about the three students at a Northern California high school who were injured by a teacher who accidentally fired his gun inside a classroom.
“I hoped that by participating in the walkout, I could make a statement,” Zhao said. “A statement [saying] that gun violence is a big problem in our nation, that the lives of students are at stake when politicians make unwise decisions about gun laws and that tragedies like Parkland … must never happen again.”
While he has “only favorable opinions regarding the walkout,” Zhao thinks there were improvements that could have been made, like devising ways to include students who were away from the quad and not as active in the walkout as others.
“While we didn’t exactly have a silent protest as intended, I think almost everyone was taking the event seriously and having meaningful discussions about the issues at hand,” Zhao said.
In 17 minutes, Zhao had become more accepting of others whose political views on gun ownership do not align with his.
“There was this feeling that everyone around me on the quad was united as a school, as Americans and as human beings,” Zhao said. “I’ve come to respect that those people with different views than mine were entitled to voice these ideas as well, and I’m just glad that no one today tried to demean or harass anyone.”
Similarly, Kazemi and Berman-Schneider were satisfied with the walkout’s outcome at TPHS and generally impressed with how respectful participants were to one another.However, the students leaders do not plan to end their advocacy of gun law reform just yet. Going forward, the three plan to send out their petitions to Congresspeople within the next couple of months and will continue to voice their opinions about gun control and school safety.
Photo used by permission of Kaelyn Ricci.
#NEVERAGAIN: TPHS students march to the quad during 3rd period at 10 a.m. The students, along with tens of thousands of others from about 2,800 schools around the nation, participated in the National School Walkout to honor the 17 students who were killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14.