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Students walk out of class to protest gun violence

A group of Claremont High School students braved the threat of truancy by walking out of their classrooms to protest gun violence Friday morning.

The students, about 30 in all, chanted slogans and carried signs as they marched down Indian Hill Boulevard to City Hall after walking out of class around 10 a.m.

The students were clear on their reasons for walking out.  

“I’m really against guns as a whole, and they’ve affected my life and I don’t want to be in danger wherever I go,” said freshman Makhil Hussein. “The world should not come to this, it’s just really unfair to me and I feel like it’s not okay.”

The students gathered in front of the weight room at CHS before they began their march. Student Sarah Kuriyama rallied with some inspiring words, noting they are walking out to protest gun violence, the inaction of congressional leaders and to engage students about the political system.

“This is our sustained advocacy, and we refuse to be silenced,” she said.

The walkout is part of a second National School Walkout that coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Leaders of the #NeverAgain movement, including Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, publicized the walkout on social media and television.

The CHS students were taking a risk by walking out. Late Thursday night, CHS principal Brett O’Connor sent out an email warning parents and students that if they were to walk out, they would be marked as truant.

“Our students continue to have many opportunities for their voices to be heard, both on and off campus, without missing class time,” Mr. O’Connor wrote in the email. “Therefore, any student that leaves the classroom tomorrow without permission will be marked as truant. The consequence for truancy is Saturday School.”

Mr. O’Connor noted that student groups who organized the first walkout, where students gathered in the center quad weeks after the school shooting in Florida, had met with administrators to discuss their desire to hold a rally during lunch or after school, but walked back on the idea when they determined there wasn’t enough time to adequately plan.

Students who were interviewed were not swayed by the possibility of administrative punishment.

“I’m a citizen here and I should be able to stand up for what I feel is right,” Makhil said.

Eleventh grader Fiona Baler, who was holding a sign that read “how many more kids need to die,” said she wanted to show support for victims of gun violence.

“We don’t really care if we get marked as truant, because it’s a small price to pay,” she said.

Vega Sherman, who is in 11th grade, noted the previous school walkout was organized in contingent with school administrators and took place within the school.

“I think this one is much more important because it sends a bigger message,” she said.

Both Makhil and Vega were personally affected by gun violence—Makhil’s uncle was murdered and Vega had to hide in a filing cabinet during an active shooter situation when she was in third grade.

But most of the students had the support of their parents. This was true for 11th grader Margo Gutierrez, who marched at the front of the pack while holding a sign reading, “guns have no place at school.”

“My parents really encouraged me, especially my mom,” Margo said. “She said, ‘You need to do this.’”

One teacher briefly ran alongside the students when they began their march, clapping and giving a thumbs-up as a show of support.

There were murmurs of a pro-gun counter-protest at the school that spread on social media the night before, but the students noted they had not seen anything. Some of the students walked back to class after the march, while others stayed in front of city hall, leaving their signs by the door when they eventually left.

Fiona hopes the walkouts send a message to those in power of the current state of American schools.

“We should be learning, we shouldn’t have to worry about being shot at school,” she said.

Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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