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March 1, 2018

Students walk out of school to rally for gun reform


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Part One: Video of Virginia students sharing thoughts’ on walk outs; school districts’ reactions

Extra’s daily video story features the voices of three seniors, Alex Bunting, Grace and James Brady, who along with many of their peers walked out of Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia on Wednesday. Wakefield students had the support of their school administration. This has not been the case with school districts throughout the country.

A Facebook post on Tuesday by Curtis Rhodes, superintendent of a Houston area school, in which he stated that the district “will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness!!” has since been taken down.

***Use the discussion questions at the end of the lesson with your students.***

Part Two: Isabella Tilley, a student at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed the following news story describing protests that took place in Washington D.C. 

Thousands of students in schools across the country walked out of their classes this week in protest of current U.S. gun policy.

On Wednesday, Maryland and D.C. students gathered outside the Capitol Building after they walked out of school, demanding stricter gun control laws. The protest was a reaction to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 high school students were killed.

High school students came from Montgomery Blair, Albert Einstein, Northwood, Bethesda Chevy-Chase, Walter Johnson, Richard Montgomery, and Gonzaga College (an all-boys private school located in the District of Columbia). Students from Takoma Park Middle School attended as well.

Students from schools in the Washington, D.C. area, including Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, gather at Capitol Hill to protest gun violence. Photo credit: Jedediah Grady

Many of the students echoed feelings of anger and frustration, and a desire to be safe from gun violence. “All students should be able to feel safe in their schools because that’s the one place that we’re promised education and safety,” Montgomery Blair sophomore Leoul Verhanu said.

The protesters initially gathered outside of the Capitol Building to listen to a speech from U.S. House Representative Jamie Raskin (MD, D). At around 11:30, they began the trek across the National Mall to the White House, and dispersed around 12:45, after a closing speech by the protest’s organizer, Richard Montgomery senior
Daniel Gelillo.

Gelillo said he came up with the idea for a walk-out last Thursday, the day after the Parkland shooting. He made a Facebook event and spread the word to his friends at other Montgomery County high schools. On Tuesday night, he went on TV to promote the event.

Students participating in walkouts in response to the Parkland shooting traveled on DC’s metro to Capitol Hill from Maryland to protest gun laws. Photo credit: Jedediah Grady

The goal of the protest, according to Gelillo, was to show lawmakers that young people, like himself, feel passionately about the issue of gun control, and to warn them that students will make their opinions known in the upcoming midterm elections.

“A lot of the people that were here today are going to be able to vote in the 2018 and 2020 elections, and if you don’t listen to what we have to say now…you’re not going to win reelection,” he said. “We’re going to take our voices to the ballot box and vote out any politician who’s bought and owned by the NRA.”

Maryland student Jedediah Grady, featured in the tweet below, echoed Gelillo’s thoughts on lawmakers not listening to students’ messages on gun policy, reminding them that he too will be able to vote next year.

The protest, which falls on the one-week anniversary of the Parkland shooting, was one of the first in a series of gun control rallies that are planned to take place over the next couple of months. Gelillo said that he wanted to organize another protest as quickly as possible in order to ensure the issue stays in the news.

“Being able to mobilize fast was really important, because God knows what can happen in between now and these national marches,” Gelillo said. “Maybe this won’t even be a relevant part of the conversation and it will have been drowned out by whatever other things happen in the next couple weeks.”

High school students from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland marched to the nation’s capital a week after 17 students lost their lives to gun violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida. Photo credit: Jedediah Grady

Discussion questions:

  1. What is your reaction to the student walkouts? Do you agree with students leaving class in order for their voices to be heard? Why or why not? Would you consider taking a similar action at your school? Explain.
  2. What has the conversation in your school been like since the shooting in Parkland, Florida? What has your school administration said as to whether or not they would support students who walked out of class? Do you agree or disagree with their decision? Explain your answer.
  3. What do you think leaders at your school should do to address the issue of mental health?
  4. “It’s too much at this point. We need to do something,” said senior James Brady. What measures do you think lawmakers should take to ensure schools are safe places for students and teachers? How could you let your state and federal legislators know your thoughts?
  5. Do you think more gun control laws would make schools safer? Why or why not?
  6. What do you know about the federal assault weapons ban that Congress passed in 1994 and then let expire in 2004? What was the aim of the ban? Why did lawmakers let it expire?
  7. It is understandable that discussing the issue of school shootings may upset. What should you do if you are feeling anxious or scared? What resources are available inside and outside school to help students?

For guidance on how to talk with students about mass shootings, read SAMHSA’s “Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event: A guide for Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers.”

Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories. @NewsHourExtra

PBS NewsHour Classroom

PBS NewsHour Classroom helps teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories.

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