High school students in our tri-county area joined tens of thousands of the their peers nationwide Wednesday participating in National Student Walkout programs. The event, organized mostly through social media, was in response to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
There were 17 victims at Douglas High, and the Walkout was symbolically designated as a 17-minute event at 10 a.m.
The idea was to honor the victims, create dialogue about gun regulation and mental health, and allow students to express themselves about personal safety, bullying and other issues important to them.
It was a call to action.
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Many students called out Congress for doing little to nothing since school shootings first came into the public’s consciousness in the 1990s.
Local school districts had varying reactions to the event. Some school leaders decided where the events would be held, whether students could participate, and whether the media could be on campus to report the events.
Lancaster County school officials chose to welcome reporters on campus to document the event and speak with students. Some of their comments were bracing.
“I never thought that it would be a day that I would be walking out of class in honor of 17 individuals that were murdered in a senseless crime,” said Makaylen Crosby, a senior at Andrew Jackson High.
“I never thought that I would see the day that going to school would be more dangerous than it was fun.”
Another senior at the school, Diamond McDovow, said Parkland might be a few hundred miles away, but what happened there still feels close to home.
“I’m a student too, and this could happen to any school.”
Indeed, there is no geographic boundary to gun violence, whether in schools and other public institutions, nightclubs or businesses.
However, school shootings occupy a special space. We send our children to school with the expectation they will be educated and return home safely. The students have that expectation.
Lancaster schools, where some facilities are not far from a community experiencing an inordinate number of fatalities and other incidents connected to gun violence, now randomly sets up metal detectors at buildings throughout the district to help keep students and faculty safe. The Lancaster County School District also created a school safety director position and added other security measures.
Other districts also are acting.
During the past five years, the Rock Hill school district has invested more than $8 million to improve school security.
The Clover school district has committed $2 million from its capital improvements budget to upgrade and improve school security systems.
Fort Mill school district is bringing in more armed security guards to protect students from intruders. The projected cost for the physical security systems is $100,000 and the district plans to spend $35,500 on the additional security officers for the remainder of the school year. Counselor salaries will be based on qualifications.
In one form or another, our schools are trying to stay a step ahead of the unthinkable.
It was good to see students find an avenue to articulate their thoughts, being activists and using their First Amendment right. It may not solve the problem, but providing an outlet helps students cope and keeps the message – in instances where the media was permitted to chronicle the events – in the public’s consciousness.
Let’s hope lawmakers, and whoever else can make a difference, were paying attention.