MCPS Students Walk Out of Class in Response to Florida Shooting

MCPS Students Walk Out of Class in Response to Florida Shooting

'I really feel like all of our lives are threatened and it shouldn't be like that because we're children,' a Montgomery Blair student said

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Students have been circulating a noice about the walkout planned for Wednesday at Montgomery Blair High School.

VIA MONTGOMERY COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Update – 10:30 a.m. – Several hundred students walked out of Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring on Wednesday morning and headed down Colesville Road escorted by Montgomery County police on motorcycles as part of a planned rally for gun control at the U.S. Capitol.

As the students walked, they carried signs and chatted with friends. Many hooted as passing car and trucks tooted their horns.

Junior Dexter Mueller said he was walking to protest the "lockdown on debating gun control that the government has had for the last couple of years."

"There have been numerous mass shootings and regular shootings, too, and Congress seems to kind of politicize gun control as an issue when it should really be a debate of 'Can we look at this objectively and look at what this is doing to our country and to high schoolers. Can we just look at this without the whole Republican like guns and Democrats hate guns stigma,' " he said. "Can we just actually sit down and talk about it?"

"It's really been 19 years since the Columbine shooting and it's ridiculous how we haven't had stronger gun control legislation and I feel like it's really necessary right now, especially in the wake of another mass school shooting and I really feel like all of our lives are threatened and it shouldn't be like that because we're children," said junior Nyrene Monforte, who was walking with Mueller. 

Students from Richard Montgomery, Bethesda-Chevy Chase, and Walter Johnson high schools were also expected to walk out of classes and head to local Metro stations. The students planned to rally at the Capitol, where U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin and a representative of Marylanders To prevent Gun Violence were expected to speak to the students. 

The Blair students, many carrying signs, began gathering shortly before 9:30 a.m. near the school's track on Colesville Road in the presence of schools security and police officers. A Blair administrator using a bullhorn instructed the students that they would be escorted by police and that they should walk only in the far right lane of Colesville Road as they headed to the Metro station in downtown Silver Spring.

Police halted traffic as the students crossed the six-lane road to the lane in which they were instructed to walk. Traffic soon began to build behind the students, further exacerbated by construction work that blocked lanes near Dale Drive.

Student organizers said Tuesday they would march to the east side of the Capitol building for a rally in the sight of congressional representatives in favor of  legislative action on gun violence.

“All people in this country, particularly children, should feel safe and should not live in fear of a gunman killing them in their school, place of worship, or a nightclub,” the demonstration organizers wrote in a statement posted on Facebook. “We expect our leaders to do whatever is required to keep us safe. That has not happened.”

Richard Montgomery senior Daniel Gelillo, an organizer for the event called “Enough is Enough,” said he felt compelled to do something following the recent shooting that killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“There have been countless horrific shootings, but I think that this one in particular, because of the videos and the students that spoke out afterward, … it really inspired us to take some real, substantive action to try to get some things to change,” Gelillo said Tuesday.

Gboyinde Onijala, spokeswoman for Montgomery County Public Schools, said students at several middle schools have also expressed interest in participating in the walkout. But MCPS principals asked students not to leave their school campuses, largely for safety reasons, she said.

“Principals have reminded them that it’s important to express your opinions and to show that this is a topic that is very important to you as a student, but your safety is our top priority,” she said.

Onijala said principals were creating opportunities for students to assemble and share their views while remaining on campus.

Blair Principal Renay Johnson was allowing students to meet with staff in the media center during both lunch periods, she wrote Tuesday in a message to parents.

“While we support the desire of our students to express their opinions, we do not support students disrupting the school day or doing so in a manner that would jeopardize their own safety,” she wrote.

Missing class to participate in the walkout will be considered an unexcused absence, Onijala said.

The teens who are organizing the event are part of a growing chorus of students across the nation who are outraged by federal inaction on gun control, despite an ever-rising death toll from mass shootings, said Jen Pauliukonis, president of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. Pauliukonis, who is expected to speak during the rally along with U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, said many young people feel betrayed by adults in positions of trust.

“High school students have realized that … the adults of their lives and the leaders of this country are not doing their part to protect them,” she said. “I think that these young people are overflowing with this anger and this frustration and this deep, deep sadness and this fear that they are facing every day when they walk into a place that should be a safety net for them.”

Gelillo said one of the legislative changes he supports would be outlawing the AR-15 rifle and other assault-style firearms. Pauliukonis said she also wants lawmakers to limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds and expand background checks.

While many of the students who are planning to gather Wednesday are too young to vote, Raskin said he does believe his colleagues on Capitol Hill are paying attention to the youth uprising.

On Tuesday, two busloads of Stoneman Douglas students headed to the Florida state capital to advocate for stronger gun laws. A number of area students Monday gathered for a demonstration outside the White House, lying on the ground for short intervals to symbolize how quickly the shooter at Stoneman Douglas was able to kill numerous teens.  And thousands have signed up to participate in a national high school walkout event planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.

“It may take the voice of the outraged youth of America to shock the conscience of a Congress that has been absolutely obstructionist and tone-deaf about the problem of gun violence,” Raskin said Tuesday in a phone interview.

Gelillo said he’s expecting about 100 to 150 students from each of the three MCPS high schools to participate in the rally in D.C. He said he also helped organize the 2016 walkout at Richard Montgomery after President Donald Trump won the election. Hundreds of students from Richard Montgomery, Blair and other MCPS schools left classes in a series of protests.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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