On the heels of the shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, Delaware students are banding together to take a stand against gun violence, joining school walkouts across the nation March 14.
Students from about 20 Delaware schools will walk out of their classes for 17 minutes — one minute for every life lost in the Parkland shooting.
Dounya Ramadan, a senior at Newark Charter High School and one of the student organizers of the walkouts, says the students want federal leaders to take action on gun control and school safety measures.
“When I go to school I don’t want to be thinking ‘will I be safe today, will I walk out of that building and go home like I usually do?’ I don’t want to think that way, I want to go to school and get my education and go out and change the world,” Ramadan said.
Ramadan says she believes policies that have been discussed on the federal level — like arming teachers — would make things worse.
She says the message she wants to send across the state and nationally is students want change.
"We have waited so long that we have created a list of victims and it goes on and on and on," Ramadan said. "We need action and we need action now, whether it be an idea today or tomorrow."
Newark Charter as an institution isn't endorsing the activity, but is allowing students to participate, Ramadan said. Meanwhile, other schools like Caesar Rodney High School in Camden were initially not allowing students to join alongside the nationwide walkout. In a Feb. 21 statement, Caesar Rodney Superintendent Kevin Fitzgerald commented on the horror of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and said the district plans to do drills and exercises.
He said he is proud his students understand they have a voice.
"However, I cannot support allowing students to disrupt the educational setting by leaving their classrooms to 'walk out'," Fitzgerald wrote. "Instead, I believe that they should write or call their legislators to let their opinions be known and most importantly to vote when they come of age."
The post was shared more than 100 times. The district received comments from people supporting the superintendent's decision and comments criticizing it. In tweets and Facebook posts, some former students claimed the district censored their comments on social media when they posted in opposition to the decision.
@GraphicSmartist In light of the walk-out, your actions are a disgrace to what every school in America should represent. We understand your concern with the walkout. However, I personally cant fathom your reasoning behind the silencing of your students.
— Kendall Metz (@KendallKKMetz) February 28, 2018
Caesar Rodney High School junior Wyatt Patterson, who is working to coordinate the walkout for her school, said until Friday, March 2, the school said it would punish anyone who walked out.
Patterson met with the school’s principal, Dr. Sherry Kijowski, on Thursday, which was followed by further discussions on school safety and student support with student leaders and administrators on Friday. Patterson said the school gave off the impression there would no longer be a punishment for walking out.
“They were very open to hearing student opinions,” Patterson said. “They’re very hesitant about the idea of a walkout, understandably so, but they’re very open to meeting with students.”
Patterson said she is hopeful Caesar Rodney will support a schoolwide walkout with assemblies and speakers. If the school doesn’t support it but still allows students to walk out with no punishment, Patterson said students will stand for 17 minutes, read aloud the names of the lives lost in Parkland and promote political discussions on gun control.
“We want everyone to see we stand with those people and to call national and local attention to the issue of school safety and we aren’t going to just stand by any longer,” Patterson said.
Patterson said the Parkland shooting has made her realize something like that could happen anywhere to anyone.
“You don’t necessarily think of school as a dangerous environment,” Patterson said. “I’m lucky enough to go to a school where we’ve never had that kind of tragedy happen, but it really brings attention to the fact that change needs to happen.”
The walkouts are slated to take place at 10 a.m. on March 14.
Many students participating will wear orange, give speeches and sing songs like Amazing Grace — to show solidarity with fellow students across the nation.