Today in Henrico, students of Douglas S. Freeman High School participated in the National School Walk Out. The walkout was a way for students nationally to remember the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida a former student murdered seventeen of their classmates on Feb. 14. The walk has also served as a call to action to implement stricter gun control.
As the walkout proceeded, students held signs and stood out on the baseball field for 17 minutes while the names and stories of the Parkland victims were read as each minute passed by. “Turnout was massive, we probably had about 500 to 1,000 students which just shows how united and coordinated we are,” said senior Maxwell Nardi, who met with reporters at the end of the event.
Students at Freeman High have been particularly vocal about participating due to multiple shooting threats made against schools within the district. Nardi, one of the student leaders behind Freeman’s walkout told NBC12 on March 9, “We’re relentless in solving this, and that’s why we are going to get it fixed.”
“This is the America where politicians and leaders prioritize lobbyists and money over the lives of kids,” wrote Nardi in a recent opinion piece for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is the America where we’re told that we’re too young to have a say, and instead that we should shut up, ride along, and hope we don’t get shot, waiting for the adults in the room to do the job.”
The students at Freeman have had one of the biggest voices when it comes to advocating for gun control reform and the activism that accompanies it. Along with their peers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and other student activists nationally, they presented themselves as smart, aware, and capable of discussing the nuance of the issue.
Molly Harring a student at Freeman spoke to RVA Magazine after the march. “I really think that our generation as a whole is one of the driving forces behind this movement. It’s really inspiring to see my friends all get together behind something that we feel is important,” she said.
This was also reinforced by Nardi, who told reporters, “We’re not going to stop until people make real changes.” He went on to say that how having to practice active shooter drills has instilled a sense of camaraderie with students all across the US. “We’re together in this. We all have the pain and the understanding of the victims in Parkland and across the nation.”
Parents and teachers were also involved in the walkout and commented on how they feel about their children participating. Angela Maggie, a mother of a student at Freeman, who was present at the walkout said she supported her daughter Kennedy and was beaming with pride as she spoke of her daughter’s activism and participation.
“I am extremely proud– extremely proud,” said Maggie. “I think we do need increased background checks to ensure that our schools are safe.” Maggie also expressed how she would still support her daughter 100 percent even if the school did not support the walkouts.
Monica Hutchinson, whose son attends Highland Springs High School also told RVA Mag about her son’s experience participating in the walkout and his views on gun reform.
“My son will be exercising his 1st Amendment right. We’ve had discussions about it and this walkout will be a teachable event,” said Hutchinson. “We plan on building support for common sense gun reform using the momentum built through this movement.”
Director of Communications and Public Relations for Henrico County Public Schools, Andy Jenks, also commented on the school board’s support for the walkout.
“Our vantage point was acknowledging their beliefs and wanting to be supportive of their ability to stand up for what they believe in but then trying to figure out how we can do that in a safe manner and one that finds the learning experience,” said Jenks.
With the ongoing national discussion of arming teachers – which will simply bring more guns into an already volatile mix – there has been contentious reactions. Henrico County Public Schools teacher Rebecca Field recently wrote an editorial for WTVR where she expresses her thoughts and emotions on the subject. “How dare you force me to choose between my own children and those that I teach,” said Field. “How dare you allow powerful adults who love guns to be more important than a generation of children growing up in fear.”
While it is met with fierce opposition from many students, parents, and teachers, Jenks and the school board simply put that they do not have a comment on the issue as of right now. However, when RVA Mag asked Nardi what he thought of arming teachers was short and to the point —
“No,” he said, before walking off and rejoining his fellow students in class.
Photos By Landon Shroder