By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
Alyson Baker is sick of hearing about students being slaughtered in their schools.
She’s not alone, so Baker and other students at Bowling Green High School are organizing a walkout to coincide with the National School Walkout on March 14.
“It has a lot of us really shaken,” Baker said last week. “We’re scared and we’re fed up. We don’t want to see anybody in schools hurt because of gun violence.”
The National School Walkout is planned for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. on March 14, to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than Tweet thoughts and prayers in response to gun violence in schools and neighborhoods.
The walkouts are based on the following beliefs:
- Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school.
- Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the mornings and see them home alive at the end of the day.
- Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address the public health crisis of gun violence. Students want Congress to pay attention and take note: many of them will vote this November and many others will join in 2020.
Bowling Green’s walkout will be held on the front lawn of the high school. The public will be able to join in the event.
Organizing the Bowling Green High School walkout are seniors Alyson Baker and Luther Shinew, and sophomores Keanu McClellan and Jadyn Lundquest.
The local youth are being inspired by their fellow students in Parkland, Florida, who have responded to the shootings at their school with eloquence and ideas.
“I’ve been to protests before, but I’ve never really led a protest,” Baker said. “It’s just so important. Now’s the time to talk about gun control.”
The National School Walkout makes the following demands of Congress:
- Ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
- Expand background checks to all gun sales.
- Pass federal gun violence restraining order law.
- Fund government research on gun violence.
- Promote safe storage.
Though young, the students are feeling empowered by their numbers.
“I think this walkout is definitely going to say something,” Baker said. “I don’t think our government can ignore it. The U.S. is covered with little pins” signifying all the school walkouts.
“I feel like this is something that needs to be brought to their attention,” McClellan said. “School is supposed to be the safest place.”
Bowling Green Superintendent Francis Scruci and High School Principal Jeff Dever have told the students that they won’t stand in the way of the walkout.
“We can’t deny these students their First Amendment rights,” Scruci said. “I’m supportive of the protest to get some attention” on the problem of school violence.
Adults in the community can join in the walkout as long as it is a peaceful event, the superintendent said.
While Dever does not like students leaving their classes, he supports their rights.
“First of all, I don’t want to deny anyone’s First Amendment rights,” Dever said. But he added, “Our business here is to educate kids.”
No matter how well organized, the walkout will be chaotic for the school. And Dever is stressing to students that their classes are still the priority.
“Whatever goes on that day in class, they will be responsible for,” he said.
Scruci reinforced that stance. “While we’re not going to infringe on their First Amendment rights, they are responsible for what they miss.”
The response of the Parkland students has been powerful, Scruci said.
“I’m impressed with the kids in Florida who have taken this on,” he said. “I think we can’t ignore the issue, and we have to make our voices heard. And we have to get the legislature’s attention.”
School violence is a multi-faceted problem, and denial of that will make it harder to fix, Scruci said.
“I think there’s got to be strict gun control laws that keep assault rifles out of the hands of an 18-year-old,” he said. At the same time, mental health issues can’t be ignored. “We’ve got to address it.”
One solution that has gained momentum from President Donald Trump, and was promoted by some members of the Bowling Green community at the last school board meeting, will not be adopted here, Scruci said.
“Our board has no intention of equipping staff with guns,” he said.
As a seasoned educator, Scruci is approaching the issue of school violence with tempered optimism. “I think it’s unrealistic to think we are going to eliminate violence in schools.”
But Baker and her fellow walkout organizers, are approaching the issue with more youthful hope. Baker has heard the criticism that gun control won’t solve anything. But she balks at that idea.
“I hear backlash on it daily,” Baker said. “Then nothing’s ever going to change.”