On Wednesday, March 14, exactly one month after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS), a majority of Redwood students walked out of their fifth period classes at 10 a.m., undeterred by the mid-morning rain. They joined tens of thousands of students across the country in a demonstration to protest for the right to be safe on school campuses and express solidarity for the victims of the Parkland shooting. Held on the South Lawn by the amphitheater, the walkout lasted for 17 minutes to honor the 17 MSDHS students and staff members who lost their lives.
ASB Vice President, senior Luna Zirpoli, said that upon hearing about the shooting, she wanted to use her position in Leadership to create a space for students to address the tragedy and express their feelings about their own safety at Redwood.
According to Zirpoli, she and senior Payton Glenn, approached Leadership teacher Dave Plescia to brainstorm ways in which Leadership could help.
“Even before we knew the walkout was going to occur, we wanted to do something. We made it available for people to write letters to people in the government, or the high school, just to help them process what was going on,” Zirpoli said.
When she heard that a nationwide walkout was scheduled for March 14, Zirpoli said she was eager to organize Redwood students’ participation in the demonstration. She asked senior Ines Laborinho Schwartz, president of the Amnesty International club, to emcee the walkout.
Laborinho Schwartz began the event by reading out the names of the students who died and called for a moment of silence to honor their lives. She then led an activity where she read several statements aloud and asked people to raise their hands if they agreed with them.
“Raise your hand if you have ever felt unsafe at Redwood,” Laborinho Schwartz said to the large crowd of students standing in front of the amphitheater. In response, hundreds of students raised their hands. More people raised their hands when asked if they were frustrated with the recent safety threats at school and if they were committed to ensuring a safe campus.
After the activity, some students volunteered to speak on the amphitheater stage and voiced their views about gun violence and school safety. According to Laborinho Schwartz, allowing students to speak had not been a part of the original agenda. Sophomore Leila Malone, who founded the March For Our Lives Club at Redwood after the shooting, was one of the students who spoke.
Malone said she was thrilled by the turnout at the event, as she believes that it is important for students to be politically aware and educated so they can make informed decisions about issues like gun control when they are able to vote.
“If you want to make change, you need to be the change. I think at Redwood that’s pretty well-communicated, but not so much in other places. So it’s really important to get the word out about these issues,” Malone said.
According to Malone, she hadn’t been passionate about gun control until the shooting last month. She said the shock of the tragedy and listening to speeches made by the students of MSDHS inspired her to speak up and start her club.
“I was really proud of Emma Gonzales and other people who spoke out and created this movement,” Malone said. “I thought it was really important that it’s led by teens, not by adults, to show that we are powerful enough to influence people on a national level.”
Junior Lex Von Klark also spoke at the walkout, drawing loud cheers from the crowd. In his speech, he reminded the students not to treat the walkout as an isolated demonstration, but to let it be the start of a bigger movement.
“Let this be the catalyst for your drive to make change. This is a moment for us to realize that we have power and we have a voice and we are worth more than whatever money these politicians take. We are worth more than their apathy,” Von Klark said in his speech.
Though many teachers also supported the spirit behind the walkout, not all of them could join, as they were legally required to remain in the classroom if even one student chose to stay in class. AP U.S. History and Government teacher Lindsey Kornfeld commended the students who participated.
“It’s an awesome sign of civic engagement and that’s the way change happens. So as an educator and as a person, I fully support the idea of a respectful, purposeful walkout,” Kornfeld said.
Nineteen of 26 students in Kornfeld’s fifth period AP U.S. History class walked out. According to Kornfeld, administration reminded teachers that despite many kids leaving during class, it was still their job to continue their lesson. However, Kornfeld made some changes to her lesson plan to accommodate the students who did walk out.
“I explained to [my students] on Tuesday how I planned the lesson, and by missing class it wasn’t something that would drastically alter their performance in the class. I respect the process and told them to come to class when it’s done,” Kornfeld said.
On Friday, March 9, Principal David Sondheim sent out an email to parents and students addressing the walkout. Sondheim stated that although the administration supports students’ right to self expression and their growth into civically-engaged individuals, they cannot endorse nor sponsor the walkout in accordance with the California Education Code.
“We understand our students’ desire to voice their concerns about student safety and their interest in recognizing the lives that were lost in the Florida school shooting. We also acknowledge their right to peacefully demonstrate. If they demonstrate, we want them to do so safely and responsibly,” Sondheim stated in the email.
Sondheim also stated that any missed class time due to participation in the walkout would be considered an unexcused absence, and that it was up to individual teachers to determine how to handle students who participated in the walkout.
Kornfeld, along with multiple other Redwood teachers, chose not to mark her students absent.
Though a large portion of the student population did walk out, there were some students who chose to stay in class for different reasons.
Junior Noah Arias decided to stay in class because he said did not want to miss instruction and work time.
“The reason I stayed is because I’ve just been swamped by schoolwork and any time I get to do any work whatsoever is really key to me. It’s not because I disrespect what people are doing, like walking out and honoring the kids that passed away in the Florida shooting,” Arias said.
Sophomore Luke McLay also stayed in class during the walkout. He chose not to walk out because he felt that school was not the appropriate place to participate in political demonstrations.
“I didn’t want people to preach about political ideas. I didn’t want it to be a gun control rally because it would have gone against the purpose of the rally in the first place, which was honoring the 17 lives lost,” McLay said.
McLay said he still honored the seventeen students by having a moment of silence for them during class.
During the walkout, many students noticed senior Johnny Fitzgerald walking around the amphitheater holding an American flag, playing music and chanting “USA,” including during the moment of silence. According to Fitzgerald, he disagreed with the idea of the walkout and with students who supported stricter gun laws.
“We’ve got a lot of kids walking out and protesting, and I think that’s all bullsh**. I’m out here to make sure people understand that some of us still care about the Second Amendment,” Fitzgerald said.
Although he disagreed with the views of most students who walked out, Fitzgerald said he respected the First Amendment right to free speech and feels he is exercising this right.
“I think people absolutely have the right to free speech. I would never want anybody to crack down on this and prevent them from speaking their minds,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said that the walkout affected him personally as he felt antagonized for supporting gun ownership. He added that since he thinks the majority of students at Redwood support gun control, students who favor the Second Amendment right to bear arms are pressured to keep their views silent. He said that parading around other students with the flag was his way to show support for owning guns.
Despite both vocal and passive opposition, Zirpoli hopes that people can put their political differences aside and recognize the importance of respecting the victims and advocating for school safety. She also hopes that the walkout isn’t the end of this movement.
“I hope this isn’t it. I hope people aren’t like ‘Okay, we did a walkout. We’re done,’” Zirpoli said.
Zirpoli believes that the best result of the walkout would be for students to continue to raise awareness about gun control and participate in the March For Our Lives rally in San Francisco on Saturday, March 24.https://vimeo.com/