Local students join movement

HAVING THEIR SAY — About 100 Fairmont Area students joined a nationwide walkout from school on Wednesday morning, rallying outside the school to raise awareness of gun violence and school safety. Some students across the country walked out of class for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 students killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

FAIRMONT — On Feb. 14, 17 high school students were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Exactly one month later, students and teachers across the nation walked out of class to raise awareness about gun violence in schools.

Students left class at 10 a.m. Wednesday for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims.

Students at Fairmont Jr/Sr. High School joined in, with about 100 of them calmly walking out into the horseshoe at 10 a.m. Many wore orange, a color meant to send a message. An organization, We Are Orange, states, “Orange is what hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves and other from harm. Orange is a bright, bold color that demands to be seen. Orange expresses our collective hope as a nation — a hope for a future free from gun violence.”

On the day before the walkout, administrators at the high school sent a statement to parents and teachers regarding the walkout, and students were read the statement during announcements at the end of that day. A portion of it reads:

“Under the constitution, students at Fairmont Jr./Sr. High School have the right to participate in this movement. Students also have a responsibility to be in class during this time. All students will be expected to remain in their regularly scheduled classes during the school day. A choice to participate will result in an unexcused absence with detention being assigned. As citizens, we are empowered to determine if our choices are worthy of the associated consequences.”

Superintendent Joe Brown explained the district’s position: “The concern of some of the school board members is that if you allow protests to happen during the regular school day and take kids out of class for this issue, then you’ll have to do it for all people who want to protest anything. On any given day, kids could go out and protest any issue because there are so many big topics in this country right now.”

“What we’ve learned from the kids in Florida is that they’re tired of being shot at and I’m tired of kids getting killed,” he said. “With that said, I think it’s great that kids are getting involved in any sort of political activity, especially something as serious as trying to do something to prevent school shootings. On the other hand, they were given a forewarning that if you skip school, there will be consequences regardless of why.”

Two Fairmont High School seniors involved in the walkout, Kyla Kainz and Lexi Fischer, said students who participated spanned grades 7-12.

“There were a lot of older kids out there,” Fischer said. “All of the speech captains were out there. The homecoming king and queen were out there.”

Kainz and Fischer said conversations about the walkout began last week on Twitter, but everything was up in the air with many not knowing whether they were going to walk out until Wednesday. Both students were surprised that as many as 100 participated.

“I know that there were more kids who wanted to come outside and be with us but they were scared of what would happen,” Kainz said.

Fischer said students in extracurricular activities were hesitant because they were told about a code of conduct they might be violating. They were told they might not be able to participate in things such as sports or speech for two weeks if they joined the walkout, but Fischer said the rumor was cleared up the day of the walkout, and students in activities will not be punished in those activities.

“I was torn because I care about speech a lot but I also care about students across the country,” said Fischer, adding that getting detention doesn’t really bother her.

“Detention doesn’t scare me,” Kainz said. “Fifteen minutes sitting in an office is nothing compared to kids who’ve lost their lives. If I have to serve 15 minutes for standing up for something I believe in … heck, I’d get expelled honestly.”

Both Kainz and Fischer believe Fairmont Area is not immune to the possibility of tragedy. A student at the walkout held up a sign that read, “What if it had been FHS?” Another student held a sign that read, “Am I next?”

Fischer said students from the Florida high school that began the movement did so for school safety and gun control, but that for Fairmont the walkout was more about school safety, which she said was better because it is more inclusive.

“This whole movement is led by kids and I think it’s important to show fellow classmates across the country that I support them and I’m here with them,” Fischer said of why she wanted to join the walkout.

“I did it because I think there needs to be change and we shouldn’t be scared to go to school,” Kainz said.

According to the students, many teachers held brief discussions about the walkout, with several saying they wish they could be out there to support the students.

“I can’t imagine how hard it would be to keep my opinions to myself as a teacher, especially teaching juniors and seniors,” Fischer said.

Kainz and Fischer expressed frustration that talk of last month’s mass shooting is already out of the news. They acknowledged that by holding a nationwide walkout, talk regarding the issue will be revived.

“Whether you walked out or stayed in class, whatever you need to do to make a difference is what you should do,” Kainz said.

There will be a march called “March for Our Lives” on March 24. On that day, thousands of people all over the U.S. are expected to join students from Parkland, Florida.

“I think what happened today is important,” Kainz said. “The main point wasn’t between liberals and conservatives or Republicans and Democrats. It was, ‘Do we want our schools safe?’ and the answer is yes.”