FHS students walk out in solidarity with Parkland, demanding action

Lauren Vernon

Maggie Hendrix, Reporter

On Wednesday, March 14, students across the nation organized demonstrations in memory of the victims of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Florida. Among these students were FHS students, many of whom, following a brief walkout during advisory, marched to the courthouse to demonstrate in favor of stricter gun legislation.

One month prior to Wednesday’s event, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida, opened fire at the school, killing 17 and injuring several more with a legally purchased AR-15 style rifle. While the nation mourned and politicians sent thoughts and prayers, MSD students, along with others across the country, began to take action.

FHS is among the 3000 schools to act in the wake of the recent mass shooting, which was the eighteenth school shooting of 2018 (based on statistics from Moms Demand Action, which defines a school shooting as “any time a firearm is discharged inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds, as documented by the press and confirmed through further inquiries with law enforcement”).

In the wake of the shooting, several FHS students began to organize a response by joining many other schools nationwide in establishing a Students Demand Action group. The response was organized by Zara Raezer, Huxley Richardson, Kenzie Carson, and Becca Tomlinson. Students publicized their event via social media, and the school’s administration deliberated to determine how to respond to the event (learn more about that process and the responses of other schools here).

Sophomore and walkout co-organizer Huxley Richardson said, “It’s important because this generation has grown up with the reality that school shootings happen and there’s nothing that can be done. But change is possible, and when I saw others take action, I decided to follow their lead and make something happen here.”

Principal Steve Jacoby said that the decision to support students “was made after much communication with both students and faculty.” The schedule was modified for March 14 so that advisory occurred during what would normally be fifth hour, and students who chose to participate in the walkout were dismissed at 9:55 a.m. Students who wanted to join the march were instructed to turn in written parental consent by Tuesday, March 13, and they began the march directly after the walkout.

Following their dismissal, students went to the courtyard for a remembrance ceremony for the victims of the Parkland shooting. The walkout lasted 17 minutes to honor the 17 killed, and Principal Jacoby commenced the program by reading their names. The program also included calls to action from several student speakers as more than 1000 students and teachers (according to The Arkansas Traveler) gathered in the courtyard.

After the program, those attending the march left FHS towards Bulldog Blvd. and met parents along the way. Supporters without a direct connection to FHS were asked to join the march at a later point or meet at the courthouse, the march’s final destination.

When marchers reached the courthouse, they were met by overwhelming support from community members, many of whom supplied demonstrators with water and snacks. Students chanted, cheered, and waved signs at passers by, and Fayetteville mayor Lioneld Jordan spoke in support of the students.

Students and community members expressed a number of reasons for their attendance, primarily the desire to inspire change and make life safer for themselves and their loved ones. Junior Audrey Whitehead said, “I believe we should have a safe environment and not be afraid to go to school everyday.”

Many students were frustrated with the current state of the nation’s gun laws, including senior Logan O’Hara, who said, “I can’t stand flipping on the news everyday and seeing all the violence going on in the world. Something obviously needs to change.”

Freshman Abdullah Aldamen said, “this is a very serious issue. It could easily happen to us, and I care about my peers and my teachers.”

Students also attended from other, less supportive schools. “Our administration didn’t want us to walk out of our school,” said Har-Ber senior Caleb Causui, adding, “since you guys already organized this it was easier to do this with you.” Har-Ber did hold a brief remembrance vigil, but it discouraged any further action.

Bentonville schools decided against supporting the walkout, so any Bentonville student to protest was counted as absent and consequently assigned detention in accordance with the student handbook. Despite this, hundreds of Bentonville students walked out.

Greenbrier schools took an even more controversial approach by offering students in-school suspension or corporal punishment. At least one student accepted swats with a wooden paddle as a consequence of his peaceful protest against gun violence.

In Fayetteville, however, the school administration’s support allowed students to lead a peaceful effort in support of stricter gun legislation. Incoming FHS principal Dr. Jay Dostal said of the event, “I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to demonstrate their freedom of speech rights and organize in a peaceful way,” adding, “one of our main jobs as schools is to help students become positive and productive citizens in the future, so being able to do something like this is awesome. I thought the speakers were great. I felt the kids were really respectful, and I’m glad that they were able to share their voice.”

Students’ messages were clearly directed at legislators, including on the local level. One student held a sign reading “Bye bye, Charlie Collins. We’ve been watching, and we’ll be voting.” Representative Collins has been criticized by constituents for his staunch gun rights stance, particularly after the passage of his 2017 legislation (Act 562, formerly House Bill 1249) allowing guns on Arkansas college campuses and significantly reducing restrictions on where concealed firearms may be carried.

Denise Garner, Democratic candidate opposing Mr. Collins for House seat 84, attended the march and offered support to students. She said of the event, “I am thrilled to be here. I think that for too long we’ve described the youth of America as the future, and they are not. They’re the present. They’re absolutely the present of our country, they’re the present of our democracy, and they are proving that today.”

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