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Beckman High School Walks Out with the Nation
May 14, 2018
On Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, student Nikolas Cruz brought an AR-15 onto Stoneman Douglas High School’s campus and murdered 17 students and faculty. This school shooting was noted to be the worst school massacre since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012. Survivors took action, bringing attention to additional gun control regulations that could be used to prevent school shootings, including but not limited to: enacting stricter background checks, banning semi-automatic weapons, raising the legal age to purchase guns to 21, and eliminating the gun-show loophole. This surge in student activism gripped a nation of frustrated students, prompting the coordination of a national school walkout.
The national school walkout was coordinated by Women’s March Youth Empower to be on March 14, 2018. The walkout was planned to be 17 minutes in length: one minute for each person who died in the Parkland shooting. Students were encouraged to walk out of class at 10 a.m., where they could exercise their First Amendment right by engaging in peaceful political activism.
Beckman High School was one of the thousands of schools that participated in the nationwide protest. At 10 a.m., over 600 students assembled at the clock tower before making their way to the football field. Students were heard chanting, “Enough is enough,” as the crowd moved across the blacktop. Others held up signs, some with calls to action, some with the names of the Stoneman Douglas victims. Students gathered in the middle of the field and shared the demonstration on various social media platforms with other protesters around the country.
“I haven’t really been in a situation where all students come and fight together,” said senior Jared Bague. “Adults haven’t really been doing anything, so students have really been stepping up. I feel proud to be a student who can have a voice in this.” Bague held up his sign that read, “Protect Children Not Guns” while sitting on the shoulders of senior Andrew Yoo.
Junior Sam Wasserman, senior Trina Vo, senior Lizzie Chu and sophomore Lana Saad stood on the bleachers and addressed the crowd through a megaphone. With them were 17 orange balloons, each with the name of a victim from the Parkland shooting. The crowd fell quiet as, one by one, each name was read aloud. The four leaders then announced that students could register to vote at the bleachers.
History teacher Ken Cooper felt proud of the student body for taking a stand for change. He admired the students for their demonstrated level of organization. “They worked with the administration to make it as peaceful and as beneficial to the group as possible and I really like the fact that they have people signing and registering to vote.”
Some students, however, felt conflicted about the timing of the event. On the morning of the walkout, students were met with a new schedule for the day. Instead of the walkout occurring during the third period, administrators created a modified schedule, causing the planned 10 a.m. walkout to fall within a 25-minute break. Many students felt that the schedule change was uncalled for, stating that the school was too involved in this student-led protest.
“It doesn’t take away the power of the movement, but it definitely lessens the power we could’ve had with it,” said senior Julia Arguelles.
Due to this schedule change, word quickly spread around the school to hold an additional walkout where the students would leave their second-period classrooms at 11 a.m. Approximately 50 students participated in this second protest, and after 17 minutes, some headed back to class, while the rest left campus to protest at the flagpole.
Others, however, felt the schedule change was a sign of administrative support. With the change, the designated time for the demonstration to occur was 25 minutes in length, an additional eight minutes from what was planned for the protest. Beckman’s administration also never discouraged students from participating. Other high schools around the country prevented student assembly through conducting fire and earthquake drills during the scheduled 10 a.m. protest, along with threats of punishment. However, Beckman’s administration gave the students a platform for their opinions on the relevant issue. Principal Donnie Rafter’s primary concern was keeping the students safe. Three separate groups of students approached Rafter to discuss their desire to participate in the walkout.
“There were a couple groups of kids…who had come to me and said they wanted to do it. At that point, it was like, okay, how can we do this as safely and as orderly as we possibly can? I worked with the three groups to basically ask them, hey, what are you hoping to accomplish? What are you wanting to do?”
Some students believed that the modified schedule was a way for the school to prevent a drop in Average Daily Attendance (ADA), which directly impacts school funding. According to Rafter, this was not the intention. “I think the perception was that we [changed the schedule] for ADA recovery. It had nothing to do with ADA recovery. That wasn’t even a thought. It was more about just making sure that [the students were] safe.”
This schedule change was rather made to prevent unexcused absences and reduce the number of make-up tests that may have occurred if an exam was held during the walkout.
“I thought the kids who arranged it did a really good job. It was a united effort. There was an attempt to have kids to register to vote. That group was very well-organized and appeared to be productive and respected the meaning of the march,” said Rafter.
Junior Shira Silver participated in the 11 a.m. walkout, but still, appreciated the school’s support of the students’ efforts. “I was a little conflicted because I wanted to be protesting and making sure our voices were heard,” Silver said. “But I’m glad the school’s at least not silencing us and preventing us from doing anything.”
Students were not punished for this additional protest; however, many were marked absent, as 11 a.m. was the transition between second and third period.
The national school walkout was a way to spark discussion and awareness among Beckman’s students about gun violence. Seeing how this relevant issue has a direct effect on high schools around the country, peaceful protesting was one way to begin to bring light to the issues students face. Students also planned to contact local representatives and explain the change they wish to see, as well as vote in the upcoming midterm elections taking place on Nov. 6, 2018.