Hundreds of students in the beach cities joined high schoolers throughout the nation today in a walkout to honor victims of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida and as a rallying cry for greater gun control measures.
Most of them, too young to vote, still added their voices to the national conversation.
"The main thing we are focusing on is we want better gun control legislation and we want elected officials to be held accountable," said Ally Kennedy, one of the student organizers at Mira Costa High School.
At Redondo Union High School students walked out of class at 10 a.m. and gathered near the auditorium for 17 minutes of silence in memory of the 17 victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb 14.
The demonstration at the Redondo Beach campus was organized by students and parents and supported by school administrators.
At Mira Costa, administrators organized a memorial service at 10 a.m. on campus, but students still participated in their own walkout.
Hundreds gathered at the foot of the administration building on the Manhattan Beach campus Wednesday. Some read statements into a megaphone about the victims in Parkland. Afterward, students marched along Artesia Boulevard. Some held signs and chanted “enough is enough.”
Taking students seriously
Mira Costa freshman Emma Fong said it was important for students to organize their own demonstration.
“Some people felt like the school was keeping us quiet, wanting us to stay on campus, but we want to express ourselves differently,” Fong said.
Mira Costa Principal Ben Dale observed the march from the parking lot as students walked up the busy street. Cars passing by honked in support as campus security kept students on the sidewalk. Students returned to class at about 10:20 a.m.
“We feel like our job is to educate, so even if we educate in activism and civil discourse, we’re still doing our job,” Dale said. “I would rather have them have this experience in a protected environment than have this experience far away from us. That was our whole goal: to take them seriously and respect their authenticity, but protect them.”
Middle school students in Hermosa Beach even participated, holding a student gathering in honor of the Parkland, Florida victims at Hermosa Valley School.
Taste of activism
For many students, Wednesday’s walkout was their first taste of activism and civil demonstration. Mira Costa student Vincent Perry said he felt students were united in wanting to see more gun restrictions in addition to more education about the issue in general.
“This is a student led thing rather than a staff thing. That’s one of the things that makes it so special,” Perry said. “Connecting on an event like this is definitely emotional and unique.”
Superintendent Mike Matthews said the district fully supported students to express themselves in whatever way those chose on Wednesday.
“It was a powerful day to see them out there feeling like they were making a difference and learning the whole time and being safe,” Matthews said. “We support what happened today and we are proud of it.”
In the weeks and months to come, both Matthews and Dale said they will continue the conversation into how to make the high school campus more secure and provide students with the resources they need.
District officials will be meeting with city leaders and police to talk about revising their emergency response procedures as well as working toward constructing a secure fence around the Mira Costa campus. Money to erect a fence was slated by the district under its Measure C funds, but there is talk about the city funding the work so that it could be completed sooner, Matthews said.
“Perimeter fencing by no means solves all the problems but it does provide a greater sense of security and the police would like to see it,” Matthews said.
Teachers weigh in
In addition to students making their voices heard, teachers too have been organizing in recent weeks leading up to another national mass protest on March 24. Mira Costa choral teacher Michael Hayden recently co-authored an op-ed along with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson opposed to arming teachers and supporting a variety of gun control measures and mental health services.
“We do not need guns in the classroom. We need smaller class sizes, more counselors, more school psychologists, more school nurses, more mental health services, and more training in how to effectively deal with students in crisis,” the op-ed stated.
Hayden, a 2014 California Teacher of the Year, was selected as a co-author of the op-ed after writing an impassioned call to action on the group’s Facebook page. A similar letter to President Trump was signed by 61 California Teachers of the Year.
“I don't know of a single teacher who wants to be armed in the classroom and I've been talking with teachers all over the country,” Hayden said. “This is not a very good idea. In fact, it's a very bad idea.”
Matthews said arming teachers with smaller class sizes is a rallying cry he fully supports. But in a district that has struggled to keep class sizes down in light of budget constraints, reality makes it difficult.
“How do we make all this happen? It’s a challenge, so let’s work on it,” Matthews said.
Parents in support
In Redondo Beach, plans for a student walkout were led by Julie Vasquez and her daughter Eva who attends RUHS as a freshman. Julie said she and her daughter felt compelled to action after the Parkland shooting.
“Like a lot of parents out there, we kind of felt like we couldn't sit around and just post things on social media. It felt like we have to do something,” Julie said.
“I think students will learn that they do have a voice and they will learn what grassroots organizing is all about, which I don't think a lot of these kids know about,” she continued. “It's learning about the political process and learning that they can make a difference, that people in numbers do have power.”
Outside Mira Costa, Marisusan Trout cheered on the students as they passed by holding signs.
“I’m so moved,” Trout said. “I’ve lived here for 25 years and this is the first time I have felt like this town has woken up. This is a national problem, but if these local kids can make a difference that’s great.”