“I think more people are worried because the school in Florida was a school sort of like our school — it was a big high school,” said Anne Roman, a junior at Severna Park High. “So I think people have realized it could happen in a high school like ours.”
Following the February 14 tragedy in which 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, students at Severna Park High School have joined their peers across the country in expressing their concerns about gun violence. Many of them wish to participate in the 17-minute national walkout on March 14 to honor the 17 victims and protest gun violence, but some worry about the repercussions.
“There are some students debating whether or not to do it. There are some who think they could get suspended for walking out,” Roman said.
Bob Mosier, chief communications officer of Anne Arundel County Public Schools, confirmed that Severna Park parents have been calling consistently with concerns that their children will be suspended for participating in the protest.
A letter sent out for parents from Superintendent George Arlotto on February 28 indicated that, because of safety and security concerns, the county cannot encourage students to leave school buildings during school hours, but he has not mandated suspension or any other consequence for students who participate in the March 14 walkout. “However,” he wrote, “our school system has a Code of Student Conduct to which all students are expected to adhere.”
The Code of Student Conduct indicates that “leaving an area and/or leaving class and/or school grounds without permission” warrants a level one, two, three or four offense, depending on the frequency of offenses. Suspension, among other disciplinary actions, is a potential consequence of a level two, three or four offense.
It is ultimately up to each school to determine how to administer the code of conduct. Severna Park High School Principal Patrick Bathras also sent home a letter for parents on February 28 providing students with ways to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting and to express their voices on March 14. One method included wearing the pins and colors to stand in solidarity with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. However, the letter did not address the March 14 national walkout, and Bathras has declined comment on the issue.
Some students, like freshman Amelia Major, say they will participate in the walkout rather than an alternative activity about gun violence regardless of the consequences, and that the security concerns present during the walkout will be no more significant than those present during a fire drill, everyday dismissal from school, or a football game. “I would prefer an actual school walkout to something in a gymnasium or a lobby because I don’t think it will have as much impact as everyone walking out of school at the same time,” Major said.
Other students would like the disciplinary actions clarified because they are concerned that participation in the walkout could ban them from extracurricular activities, which is a consequence of suspension. “March 14 is right around Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival,” said sophomore Megan Mouisdale. “If we were to participate in the walkout, we may not be able to participate [in Rock and Roll Revival], and it’s the same with sports. It’s around a lot of sports tryouts. It’s really disheartening that we would have to choose between some of our favorite activities and being active in our political beliefs,” she said.
Other students are worried that a suspension on their school record could affect their long-term goals. Major said, “I have a lot of friends who agree with gun control, but they have fear over not getting into college because of a suspension.”
Major knows that many colleges have indicated that students applying to their schools will not be penalized for participating in the walkout, and she has disseminated this information.
Mouisdale, Major and junior Lauren Carlson have all been emailing the Severna Park High School administration, the Board of Education and local government officials about the importance of protesting and discussing gun violence. Major is disappointed that her teachers did not discuss school safety directly after the Parkland shooting. Carlson said that most of her teachers discussed protocol for a shooting at Severna Park High School the day after the Parkland shooting, but she believes that some teachers are “sort of hesitant to talk about it … they just need to reassure the student body because everyone is pretty scared, and it feels like the administration isn’t really listening or doing what they need to do.”
Some teachers, such as social studies teacher Michael Kandra, have held class discussions on gun violence and its prevalence in society. English teacher Sabra Hill is encouraging students to take charge and stand up for what they believe. “I hope that we use this as a learning experience at Severna Park High School to make real positive change,” she said. “I think the student movement is exciting and it is important that we empower them, not only because I think it is a lesson that they could remember for the rest of their lives, but really, they could make positive change if we maybe step out of the way a little bit.”
English teacher and publications adviser Valerie Earhart agrees that we need to liberate the students on this issue. “I think it is OK to stand up in a respectful way because the minute we start saying it’s not OK, we compromise our values as a nation. It’s a school and there are parameters, but trying to squash their voices will just make them louder,” she said.
Students of the high school are coming together to support their shared goal of improving school safety. Sophomore Megan Mouisdale said, “This is becoming such a nonpartisan issue. One of the kids in my class who is so politically different from me said, ‘No, I will participate in the walkout; I’m scared too’… I think we are all bonded on the fear. The fear is bringing us together, and we can all agree that we want something done.”
Junior Reese Barret agrees. “It [the national walkout] has opened the debate up … it has created an avenue for people to talk about things that they otherwise wouldn’t,” she said.
The students and faculty are trying to organize other ways for students to express their dissatisfaction with school safety in our country. During advisory on March 14, the school will dedicate 17 seconds of silence to honor the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and the victims’ names will be read out in each classroom. Students and faculty will be able to donate to the GoFundMe for the victims and their families and wear armbands and the colors burgundy and silver to represent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The student government is also planning an assembly to discuss gun violence at a later date.
Students want the community to continue discussing this issue until there is significant legislative reform. Carlson, among other organizers, will host a March For Our Lives event on March 24 in Annapolis to spread awareness. Students are promoting another national walkout event on April 20 and hope to receive more support because Rock ‘N’ Roll Revival will have ended.
Sophomore Carey Cameron, who is involved in organizing the advisory period on March 14, said, “The protesting and fight to be safe in our schools has been blown off as a phase that will pass, and that students are only passionate about this issue because it’s an excuse to skip class. We are interested in engaging in peaceful protest because it could happen at our school; it could happen to us.”
Barret lamented that she had to discuss gun violence with her 10-year-old younger sister because she was scared about a shooter coming to her school. Barret said, “I can’t promise her that she’s not going to get shot because it’s obviously a reality, and it’s really hard to talk to your 10-year-old sister about an issue like that.”
The atmosphere in school systems is changing. Some parents are supporting their children’s activism regardless of potential disciplinary action because they worry every day that the next shooting will be at their own children’s school. Severna Park High School parent Lyn Keller told her daughter, on a morning days after the Parkland shooting, to wear her flat boots to school instead of her taller boots — not because of how they looked but because she thought they would allow her to run faster.
Keller said she will support her children in whatever decision they make concerning the walkout.
This national issue has reverberated through the Severna Park community. Students have become impassioned, and adults are following them. As students across the country realize they are drawing more political attention to gun control reform than ever before, they want to use it to their advantage. The walkout highlights who is leading this movement.
“The school does not need to endorse this,” said Carlson. “They just need to let it happen.”