When high school students from Madera to Reedley to Fresno and Visalia walk out of their classrooms Wednesday morning at 10 a.m., they will be joining thousands of students coast to coast doing the same. We will be with them – in spirit if not in person.
The survivors of the murderous rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. are taking the lead in one of the most important movements of our time. Their own safety.
We will be with them because we agree with them. Something must be done about the mass shootings that occur all too frequently, usually with weapons designed for mass casualties. We will be with them because we have failed to protect them. As they walk to protect themselves, the least we can do is stand with them.
That’s because the “least” is all we have done in the 29 years since Stockton’s Cleveland School shootings killed five and wounded 32; in the 19 years since 13 died at Columbine; in the six years since the lives of 20 precious 6- and 7-year-olds were snuffed out in Newtown, Conn.
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We will be with them, but so will an enormous number of teachers – even if they’ve been ordered to remain in their classrooms. It isn’t only students dying in those schools. Five teachers died at Sandy Hook, one teacher fell at Columbine, another was among the 10 dead at Red Lake, Minn.; three more at Parkland. Every teacher fears he or she will be called upon to act as a human shield if their classroom is attacked.
We appreciate the words of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who asked California public schools to stop trying to control how students respond to the constant threat of gun violence in their classrooms. “The adults in charge of Congress have failed our children for long enough,” he wrote in a letter to California’s 58 county superintendents. “Let’s not fail them again by suppressing their voices at this critical juncture in history.”
Fortunately, most schools in the Valley are taking a positive tone, vowing to listen, let students determine the tone and their activities reflect it: Central High is planning a gigantic message wall on paper, which can be sent later to Parkland. Bullard High School students will gather hand in hand in an open mike session, Cooper Academy students will head outside to a field, creating a giant heart with the number 17 inside, Parkland painted on the grass. Roosevelt High students plan to wear white to symbolize peace. Reedley’s gym will be opened where student leaders can guide the conversation.
There will always be those who want to treat this as an all-day hall pass. But we have no regard for those adults who doesn’t see the value and validity of this moment.
The most important “learning environment” anywhere in America on March 14 will be among those students willing to consider – for 17 meaningful minutes – the unthinkable. These students are attempting to shape a better future, exercising the rights guaranteed to America’s citizens to peaceably assemble and speak their minds. They don’t claim to have all the answers, but at least they are searching for them.
We see in our Valley and the nation young people leading us through the stages of grief identified by the legendary Elisabeth Kubler Ross: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
These memorials, demonstrations and walkouts are therapeutic, healthy, educational, compassionate, empathetic. We may not have lost a friend, child or parent, here, but there is a grieving for own lost sense of innocence, that calming feeling of safety that nothing like that could happen here. We hope it takes us a long time to reach that acceptance stage. Long enough to make ferocious change.
If we can’t join them on the walk outside their classrooms, we must join them in that search.