About 800 students at Champlain Valley Union High School took part in a planned walkout Friday to mark one month since the Parkland, Fla. school shooting that killed 17 and to call for action from Vermont lawmakers to toughen gun laws.
The demonstration had been scheduled for Wednesday, but classes were cancelled due to a snowstorm.
In sunshine but cold on Friday, students gathered around 10 a.m. just outside the school entrance where several took turns addressing the gathering. They aired their frustration at the inaction from legislators regarding gun laws, called on fellow students to vote when they turn 18, and emphasized the importance of treating other students with kindness and love.
Senior and student body co-president, Roarke Flad addressed the crowd first. He thanked his peers for joining in the demonstration and called on them to say something if they see something that could point to trouble. He also called on students to be kind toward their peers.
In the days after the Florida shooting, school officials at CVU dealt with what they described as a possible threat from a student based on a student tip. The student in question was taken out of school, although his mother has told The Citizen that he was not a threat.
After a brief moment of silence Friday morning, sophomore Hannah Frasur spoke about the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland.
Frasur criticized legislators who accept campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association and, in turn, resist supporting stricter gun regulations that could protect children from gun violence at school. “The mass murder of school children seemingly means nothing to them,” she said.
She then called on students to register to vote: “Never let yourself think you don’t have power,” she said.
For Sydney Hicks, December 14, 2012 is a day that still lives with her. On that day, 20 children and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. were murdered in a mass shooting.
“Being so young and seeing something like that take place and not seeing any change happen at age 10 and now at age 16, seeing how politics works and seeing nothing get done leaves me in an extreme state of frustration. I have so many things in common with many of the victims, it’s so easy to put myself in their shoes, I just can’t imagine what it’s like to be in that community and anything we can do to help, I think that we should,” Hicks said.
Sophomore Asha Hickok said as someone who can’t vote yet, it’s hard to feel that your voice is heard, but that students can get involved. Hickok shared the same feelings of frustration as Hicks saying that no parent should have to worry that their child might be shot at school.
“Seeing how often (school shootings) happen and how little I feel like is being done at the moment, I felt we needed to say something, do something, get involved the only way we knew how,” Hickok said.
Senior Peter Trombley, an organizer of the event, ended the walkout with a call for students to make the trip to Washington D.C. this weekend for the March for Our Lives march against gun violence organized in the wake of the Florida tragedy. An alternative is a similar rally planned for Saturday in Montpelier, Trombley said.
“We need to foster a dialogue with our representatives. We can be the arbiters of change. You can and should wield the power of the vote,” he said.
In an interview after the walkout, CVU Principal Adam Bunting said the issue of violence directed toward schools and safety at schools is resonating with students in Vermont.
“Kids are really tired of being afraid. I had several students after the Parkland shooting contact me and say they were afraid to come to school, they didn’t want to come to school,” Bunting said. “. I think we’re constantly doing clear- the- halls and evacuation drills and talking about safety, I think kids are tired of it and recognizing that they have the right to be free of that fear. It’s hard to learn if you’re not feeling safe.”
Bunting said he along with other teachers and school staff supported the students’ desire to leave class for this demonstration and conversation. He said he was appalled at school leaders elsewhere who threatened to suspend students if they decided to walkout to demonstrate.
Bunting said it’s also his job to make sure all student’s’ voices are heard and that it can’t just be a one-sided debate. And while there may be varying positions in this debate, Bunting said he hears a common denominator among students: to be wanted, included, safe and to take care of each other. He said the ultimate message from the morning was that it’s time to stop being apathetic and start doing something.
To that end, before heading back to class, some students lined up at table inside the school entryway where volunteers had voter registration forms. Also, some CVU students are planning to travel by bus to Washington D.C. for Saturday’s march. CVU students have raised over $8,000 for transportation and lodging, the principal said. The trip is not school- sponsored, but Bunting said the school has remained supportive of students wanting to be engaged.