Morgan County High School (MCHS) students joined tens of thousands of students across the country who walked out of school on Wednesday, March 14, as part of the national “March for Our Lives” movement to protest gun violence and demand action from government leaders on various gun control measures. The March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C. is happening this Saturday, March 24.
About 150 MCHS students walked out of class on Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. for a 17-minute silent protest in remembrance of the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, in which Nicholas Cruz, 19, descended upon his former high school armed with an AR-15 rifle and ruthlessly massacred unsuspecting students and teachers.
The structure of the protest seemed to be a compromise carved out between students and school administrators.
“Our aim was to ensure that students who chose to walkout were provided the opportunity to voice an opinion in a managed and safe environment,” said Dr. James Woodard, superintendent of Morgan County schools. “We also conducted safety assemblies organized at the high school immediately after the walkout to provide students with more education about the things we do daily to keep them safe. We focused on striking a balance between student/school safety and civic engagement with a well laid out plan to manage the school walkout opportunity.”
The walkout entailed students sitting out on outdoor bleachers in silence until MCHS students Lucia Hodges and Katee Finney were permitted to close the event with brief remarks. Hodges, who helped orchestrate the event, set out to make the walkout apolitical.
“A lot of people thought this was about gun control, but it isn’t,” said Hodges to the crowd. “But there are ways we can prevent this from happening at our school.” Hodges encouraged students to perform 17 acts of kinds in remembrance of the 17 victims shot and killed in Parkland, Fla.
Finney led the students in prayer for the victims and families involved in the shooting as well as the future safety of schools.
“I didn’t organize this walkout to further any political agenda,” said Hodges. “My goal was strictly to honor the lives of those lost in the Parkland shooting and to show support to the survivors and families of those who were killed. I wanted to participate in this nationwide demonstration of solidarity with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and any other school that has experienced such tragedy and bring understanding to Morgan County High School that this could happen anywhere, and to anyone, even to us.”
“I am so proud of our kids. We couldn’t be prouder,” said Dr. Miki Edwards, principal of MCHS. “We have so much respect for these kids. We weren’t promoting this walkout and we weren’t prohibiting it. We just wanted to facilitate it to maintain the safety our students and keep school continuing smoothly.”
However, some students who participated in the walkout were unhappy with the event. A handful of adults wearing “March for Our Lives” T-shirts and holding signs also showed up at the school to join the students, but were told to remain outside. Some students expressed frustration as they shuffled back into class over having to remain silent throughout the walkout. Kye Benson, a sophomore involved in the Georgia Youth Assembly, was one of those students.
“The whole point was for us to make our voices heard, but we weren’t allowed to do that,” said Benson. Benson made a sign for the event but was told by a school administrator not to use it.
“We couldn’t talk, we couldn’t have signs, and the whole thing became about remembering the victims. But this day wasn’t supposed to be just about remembering the victims, but talking about change to make sure this doesn’t happen again in the future.”
Benson wished the protest went further than what was allowed by the school.
“It’s a good thing to remember the victims, but I feel like this is not what the survivors of Parkland wanted. Their entire message was that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are not enough, that we need action. Some of us wanted to speak and be heard and have a protest where everyone could be heard, but we were told to be quiet. Students have a lot of anxiety about these things. I know people don’t take teenagers like us super seriously that often, and I understand we haven’t been around that long, but we have been around long enough to worry about our safety at school.”