Newton High School students walk out for school safety

Remembering the victims of Parkland, Florida

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  • Event co-organizer Brandon Schoemer, senior, speaks to his peers about the walkout as students carry posters with the victims’ names Photos by Kara Sterner

  • Students remember the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

  • Over 120 students stand outside of their school building to unite with other students in schools across the country

By Liam Oakes

– Over 120 Newton High School students walked out of school on Mar. 14 to remember the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last month and to raise awareness for school safety. The students joined thousands of others across the country in the National School Walkout event hosted by the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER.

The students assembled outside of the high school cafeteria, where they stood for 17 minutes to remember the 17 lives lost by the tragedy. A list of the victims’ names was read aloud following a moment of silence.

Several students tried to fight back tears as they read aloud stories by the student survivors of the shooting. Some held posters that displayed messages such as “Remember them,” “#Enough,” and “Make our schools safe,” while others held signs that displayed the victims’ names.

Seniors Sydney Reynolds and Brandon Schoemer organized and planned the walkout with the school’s administration. The objective of the national school walkout was “to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship,” according to the Women’s March website.

However, Reynolds said that she and Schoemer planned the event to be a memorial rather than a protest. She added that they also wanted students to express their thoughts and concerns regarding the safety of their own school.

“We did not want to make this political, but rather a memorial,” Reynolds said. “We wanted the students of Newton High School to stand with the students of Parkland.”

Newton High School Principal Jeff Waldron said in an email that Schoemer met with him several weeks ago to organize the event with the administration’s approval and that Schoemer stated clear that the walkout was not intended to support a particular political agenda.

“As an educational institution, we do not support one political agenda over another,” Waldron said. “But we do support our students in their efforts to encourage change with a peaceful assembly.”

Reynolds said that the other purpose of the walkout was to show the school administration that “times are changing” and that they should “take steps to make the school a bit safer and acknowledge students’ fears.”

“Personally, I feel safe,” she said. “I feel like they [the administration] realized we were scared.”

Waldron said that Newton High School and all schools across the district have always focused on safety.

“Our current safety and security procedures were developed in conjunction with local law enforcement, emergency responders, and the Office of Emergency Management,” Waldron said. “While we do analyze our safety and security practices on a regular basis, situations like the one in Parkland offer opportunities to redouble those efforts to ensure a safe and secure physical environment.”

Reynolds said that the school now has signs on every bathroom door that list instructions on what to do during a certain drill, and that there are signs around the school directing people to only enter through the main door. She said that however, the usage of the main entrance is more inconvenient and that the school should provide key cards to students.

Jillian Bandel, an 18-year-old senior, emphasized the importance of voting. She said to her classmates that anybody who is turning 18 years old before this year’s Election Day should pre-register to vote as soon as possible and that their votes can make a difference.

“The only way to bring about a true change is through voting,” Bandel said to her peers. “Everybody here today is making a statement, whether you are able to vote or not. About one-third of the Senate is leaving office. This election can make a change.”

She added, “This is not normal. It should not be a normality to come home after school and see another report about a school shooting.”

Schoemer concluded the event. “Although we have united as a single entity for the 17 minutes, we must continue to do so every day,” Schoemer said. “Our young voices have developed into roars across the nation, and we will not be silenced.”

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