On Wednesday at schools across the U.S., including Napa, daily activity will come to a standstill for 17 minutes – one minute for each person who died in the Parkland, Florida school shooting exactly one month earlier.
Planners of the National School Walkout have been urging students, teachers and faculty to step away from their classes to protest gun violence and urge lawmakers toward tighter controls of firearm sales, in the wake of the killing of 17 students Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
In Napa, school leaders are finding a variety of ways to honor the Florida students. Both Napa High School and Vintage High School are planning 17-minute observances on campus Wednesday.
“Rather than making this a politically divided issue at Napa High School we want to remember the 17 Victims in Parkland,” said Angela Alvarez-Cendejas, a student organizer.
“We will be holding a Remembrance ceremony at 10 a.m. in our quad to show empathy and let the victims’ families and friends know that there are people everywhere who are listening and who want to make a change,” she said.
Napa High Principal Annie Petrie said, “While educators refrain from participating in political discourse, we encourage our students to speak honestly and to act with empathy. Our students have a vision to create schools, communities, and a world where all kids feel safe and heard.”
“When we highlight student voice it is inspiring ... when we actually listen with the intent to learn and to act, it is transformational,” Petri said in a statement.
Vintage High School is planning its own 17-minute observance on campus. Although final details of the event had not yet been settled, principal Mike Pearson said faculty members are planning activities that would “pay respect to the victims in Florida, that build community at Vintage (and) provide a space for student voices and student empathy.”
Students declining to take part will be allowed to stay in their classrooms for homework or extra academic help, said Pearson, noting the 10 a.m. event will fall within a regularly scheduled school period for those activities.
On Wednesday, Justin-Siena High School announced it would hold a “walk-to” event honoring Parkland survivors and their families on the morning of the walkout campaign. Students at the private Catholic academy will leave their classrooms on Maher Street and walk to a “well-planned event” to be organized with help from the school’s student leadership team, chief operating officer Robert Bailey said in an email to school parents.
At the Blue Oak School, a private academy with just over 110 students from kindergarten to the eighth grade, school directors are organizing a 17-minute observance nearby at Jefferson and Hayes streets 30 feet from Blue Oak’s middle school, where junior high students will hold up signs supporting survivors of the Parkland attack.
The curbside observance grew out of two meetings involving staff, parents and middle-schoolers, according to Dan Schwartz, head of the school.
Although gun-control supporters have used the Florida shooting as an example of the need to restrict gun ownership and challenge the lobbying might of the National Rifle Association, Schwartz described a consensus at Blue Oak that its ceremony should stress children’s safety rather than politics.
“It wasn’t necessarily about taking a specific political stance on the NRA, it was about safe schools,” he said Tuesday. “(It’s being done) out of empathy for the students who died in Parkland, and in solidarity with Parkland students who called for action to bring the conversation forward on keeping schools safer. Our students talked about it and decided this was something they were comfortable doing.”
While Blue Oak’s students of junior-high age hold signs, those in the fourth and fifth grades will be on hand as observers and will write an article about the event for a school newspaper, school officials said.
How best to involve 9- and 10-year-olds was a particular point of discussion because of the different times when such children start engaging with the wider world, according to Julie Inalsingh, who teaches fourth-graders at Blue Oak.
“When I took the temperature of fourth-graders, some of the kids were not very interested right now – they feel very safe in school and don’t feel a need to act like activists yet,” she said. “But some other kids have already attended marches with their parents. Some kids are fired up at this age, and others are not.”
At St. Helena High School, the new “Students for Change” club is planning student walk-out for 17 minutes. “Our purpose is to demonstrate our solidarity and honor those who have lost their lives in school shootings, with a focus on the most recent killings in Florida,” said Sydney Becker, a student organizer. “As students, we want to feel safe at school; we want all students and teachers in America to be safe at school.”
Washington, D.C. will be the venue for March for Our Lives on March 24, when tens of thousands are expected to converge on the nation’s capital to demonstrate on Pennsylvania Avenue. A campaign website lists more than 500 companion protests scheduled that same day, including events planned for Santa Rosa and Benicia.
Meanwhile, the Network for Public Education, an advocacy organization for public schools, has announced a “national day of action” on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in which two students killed 12 schoolmates, a teacher and themselves.
The network is encouraging teachers and students to organize sit-ins, walkouts, marches and any other events to protest gun violence in schools.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.