Fresno Unified School District students took part in national school walkout events today. Students across the nation participated in memory of the victims of last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and in protest of gun violence. Students at Fresno High School opted for a “lie in,” instead of a walkout.
Instead of leaving campus, students left their second period class early to gather in Warrior Park, facing the school’s auditorium.
Brooke Rowland, a junior at Fresno High, helped organize the event.
“Although student walkouts are incredible effective throughout history, there needs to be a procedure,” she explained. “The gates are open, the kids are aware of that, however we have no reason to go off campus.”
Instead of a walkout, the students read poems, and chanted. They held signs that read, “Am I next?” and “lives not bribes.”
Hundreds of students stood in chalked sections on the lawn. There were seventeen sections, one for every victim in Parkland, Florida. Students sat, section by section, as the name of each victim was read.
Afterwards, Brooke encouraged the students to vote, or pre-register to vote.
The event went without a hitch, except for one counter-protester. One adult stood outside the school fence, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. As students were dismissed to return to class, some of them gathered near the counter-protester instead. Some threw paper and yelled, while teachers urged them to go to class.
One history teacher used the event to put their studies into context.
Ysidro Valenzuela talked to his third period history class about the students in Parkland, Florida, who inspired the activity.
“I don't think that there's a day that has gone by where students haven't come in with something from the news to discuss,” Valenzuela said.
He told them about the school shooting at Columbine High School, which happened before the seniors in this class were even born.
“You’re just supposed to know that kids are safe at school, and when Columbine happened, that changed everything,” said Valenzuela. “It was a cultural clicking moment for us.”
Valenzuela says this generation is hungry for information and for productive conversation about perspectives, and he thinks they could make an impact.
The tone at Clark Intermediate School in Clovis was decidedly different.
When the bell rang at 10 a.m. this morning, students filed out of classrooms—mostly to move between classes. School administrators discouraged anything, else shouting “go to class now!” to any who lingered outside.
But some students still did walk out. Twelve-year-old Melodie English signed out of school for the day in protest of what she feels is an environment that permits school violence. “I’m just saying we shouldn’t have to live like any day we could get shot,” she said.
Eighth-grader Andria Zavala said she wants to see change. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t have guns, because we have the right to bear arms,” she said, “but I think there should be stricter gun laws.”
Both students said they were leaving school for the day to calm their nerves and consider how the school violence situation could improve.
Nearby, a handful of students and their parents held up signs reading things like “Enough” and “I love my friends, let them live.” But they weren’t at school: They were at the office of Congressman Devin Nunes in downtown Clovis.
Sandy Rinck, a protester and mother of two Clovis Unified students, said visiting his office was strategic. “If he wanted to listen to the kids, listen to us, he would be somebody that could make those changes happen because he has pull with the conservative party,” she said.
Her 12-year-old daughter Morgan protested by her side. She said she worries about her own safety at school, because their campus is relatively open “and so somebody could just walk up,” she said. “But we do have a police officer on campus, so that makes it a little better.”