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McLean students participate in national walkout

Students gather for a walkout held at Lewinsville Park

Students+sit+together+at+Lewinsville+Park+at+the+walkout+on+March+14.+Seven+speakers+attended+the+event%2C+which+lasted+for+about+three+hours.+%28photo+by+Maren+Kranking%29
Students sit together at Lewinsville Park at the walkout on March 14. Seven speakers attended the event, which lasted for about three hours. (photo by Maren Kranking)

Students sit together at Lewinsville Park at the walkout on March 14. Seven speakers attended the event, which lasted for about three hours. (photo by Maren Kranking)

Students sit together at Lewinsville Park at the walkout on March 14. Seven speakers attended the event, which lasted for about three hours. (photo by Maren Kranking)

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As the bell rang to announce the break before Highlander Time on March 14, students picked up their backpacks and quickly emptied classrooms. However, instead of making their way to their next class, masses of students headed toward the front of the school donning warm clothing and carrying handmade posters.

At 10 a.m., about 100 students gathered in the front parking lot of McLean to participate in a school walkout along with students across the nation, dedicating 17 minutes of silence to the victims of the Parkland massacre that occurred in February. The student organizers stood at the front of the congregation, reading out each Parkland victim’s name during each minute. The national walkout was organized by Women’s March Youth Empower, while local students spearheaded efforts at each school.

Students gather in the front parking lot to dedicate 17 minutes of silence to the Parkland victims. This event was one of thousands held at the same time in schools across the nation. (photo by Maren Kranking)

“I decided to walk out because I realize that politicians are really doing nothing to change our gun laws, and it’s now our responsibility to enforce change and demand action,” sophomore Easton McCullough said. “It’s a matter of time until it will happen here and gun laws need to change.”

Following the national walkout, student organizers held an event at Lewinsville Park in conjunction with the DMV chapter of Students Demanding Action (SDA), inviting the entire community to come together to discuss solutions to gun violence. About 60 students marched together to the park at the beginning of third period, with police officers in attendance to ensure the safety of the students. Junior Kimya Shirazi, a student organizer of the protest, explained the importance of holding such an event.

“When I obtained a permit for Lewinsville Park, my primary goal was to provide a platform where students could fully express themselves without the regulations of being on school grounds,” Shirazi said. “It was a truly successful demonstration in which we got to see students genuinely engage in a meaningful way with one another.”

Seven speakers attended the event, among these Mary Beth Tinker, an activist who played a major role in the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court case that set precedent for schools’ control of student speech; Salli Garrigan, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine shooting; and Delegate Kathleen Murphy. Various local groups such as Moms Demand Action also were in attendance, and some groups aided and encouraged eligible seniors to register to vote.

Mary Beth Tinker rallies with students during the SDA event at Lewinsville Park on March 14. When Tinker was 13, she wore a black armband to school protesting the Vietnam War, resulting in the famous Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines. (photo by Maren Kranking)

Tinker invited students to give their opinions on gun violence and student activism to the crowd during her speech; about a dozen students took this opportunity to speak their mind.

“When I heard students share their thoughts when we opened the mic, it was genuinely uplifting to hear students become more hopeful by seeing their peers there,” Shirazi said. “One has to feel motivated to make a difference, and a huge source of motivation should be coming from each other because we have to uplift one another, and I believe we did that for a lot of students.”

Among the students who talked during the open mic was sophomore Alex Weinstein.

“I decided to share that my friend actually went to Douglas High School in Parkland, and that she heard the shooter try to get in her room and heard gunshots in the room next to hers,” Weinstein said. “I [spoke] out during this event because I think it’€s important to realize this could happen to anyone if we don’t do something.”

Because the walkout was held during the school day, the administration was not involved in organization. Students have the right to peacefully protest political issues; administrators and teachers did not encourage, but also did not discourage, attending the event. Students who attended the event rather than going to Highlander Time or third period were marked with an unexcused absence.

“People want to have walkouts—and I mean yeah, you have the right to walk out, I read the rules, I read the regulations—but if you do, you receive an unexcused absence. But if you have a walkout and you do it during [class], it’s called a disruption to the school day,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “I feel bad; I’m the bearer of bad news. There’s just so many rules…it’s confusing. And it’s hard.”

Students receive stickers and buttons from political groups who attended the event. The event was planned by McLean students and the DMV Chapter of Students Demand Action. (photo by Nick Monroy)

Despite the impressive turnout at the event, some students were deterred by the disciplinary consequence of attending.

“I personally chose not to go, both because my parents didn’€t want me to have another unexcused absence due to walkouts and because my teacher was very adamant about the work we would not be able to make up with an unexcused absence,” junior Ella Sangree said. “I really wanted to go to the walkout, but as I had already participated in the walkouts earlier this month I felt pressured not to go again by the schoolwork I wouldn’€t be able to make up.”

Junior Nathaniel Wyerman, a student organizer of the event, does not believe that this consequence is irrational.

“I support the administration’s decision to mark us as unexcused, because we are missing out on instructional time,” Wyerman said.

However, for Wyerman and the other attendees of the event, including McCullough, participating in the walkout and march outweighed receiving an unexcused absence.

“I realized that these laws will affect me more than me missing one period of class,” McCullough said.

Shirazi is concerned about the inconsistency of such consequences throughout Fairfax County regarding student protests and the possibility that this may have caused less students to walk out.

“The top priority of FCPS should be communicating clear, uniform, and followed guidelines concerning walkouts and protests,” Shirazi said. “Different schools within the same county are taking different actions when it comes to students walking out… The bottom line is they have to be straightforward and honest with the consequences and follow a uniform decision across the county.”

The event was the last of those currently planned to take place at McLean High School. However, student organizers are helping the SDA Chapter in the DMV to organize the March for Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C., scheduled for March 24. Shirazi does not want the March 14 walkout to be the end of student activism within McLean.

“I am hoping students who attended the protest continue to network with one another and organize efforts,” Shirazi said. “Although individual efforts are important, a united force working together will be significantly more productive.”

Organizers are pleased with the turnout and success of the SDA event.

Students march to Lewinsville Park on March 14 following the 17 minutes of silence during Highlander Time. The event at Lewinsville was scheduled to last from 10:17 a.m. – 1 p.m. (photo by Maren Kranking)

“This walkout demonstrates the capability of students across the nation in voicing their opinions on political issues. The fact that we have no say in legislation that directly affects our safety in schools is inexcusable, particularly when lawmakers are ineffective and paid by the NRA,” Wyerman said.

Although the event was successful, Wyerman concedes that walkouts cannot be the sole source of action from students.

“Walking out of school is effective, only to a certain extent,” Wyerman said. “We must demand that our representatives enact common sense gun safety laws to ensure our safety.”

Legislation on gun control is the ultimate goal of the movement, and students must continue to take these steps to reach it.

“Change won’t happen if we stay silent,” Wyerman said. “We have to make our voices heard.”

 

(photo by Maren Kranking)
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