Walkout comes on anniversary of Columbine shooting

Photos by Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Jasper High School junior Claudia Hernandez spoke this morning during a student walkout at Jasper High School on the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. "If we don't speak up, nobody will," Hernandez said. About 100 students walked out of class for 17 minutes to honor the 17 lives lost in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Some students laid on the pavement to reenact students killed in school shootings.

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — A 4-year-old girl is part of the reason junior Claudia Hernandez walked out of Jasper High School this morning with 100 of her peers to protest for common-sense gun laws. Hernandez doesn’t want the girl her family helps take care of to grow up in fear of a school shooting like Hernandez and some of her peers have.

According to the walkout’s Instagram feed, the students were calling for the legal age to purchase a firearm to be 21, a ban on assault-style weapons and restrictions for people with mental health issues and inclusion in a nationwide database. The students also want better mental health care for teens.

Hernandez said she supports the Second Amendment and doesn’t want to see all firearms banned, but she does want to see the government make it more difficult for people to obtain guns, especially since Nikolas Cruz, the teen who perpetrated the school shooting on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, obtained his guns legally.

“I have made myself support the Second Amendment,” Hernandez said. “It’s their rights as well as mine.”

Sophomore Andrew Head also participated in the walkout.

“I think it’s really sad that people can’t go to school or go out in public without the fear of being shot,” Head said.

While Head said he doesn’t feel afraid in Jasper, when he goes to larger cities for concerts or other big events, the possibility of a shooter is in the back of his mind.

Not all the students were on board with the walkout, and several started Instagram accounts to counter the one created for the walkout. Junior Garrett Robling created Protect Our Second Amendment JHS on Instagram when he heard that the students’ walkout supported a ban on assault-style such weapons as the AR-15 rifle and other semi-automatics, as well as raising the legal age to purchase a gun to 21.

“That just didn’t sit right with me,” he said.

As a hunter, Robling knows that if you use guns responsibly as tools, no one will be hurt. He also felt like many of his classmates supporting the walkout weren’t familiar with firearms, and he saw creating an Instagram account as a way to educate people and show that gun owners are reasonable people who aren’t all against some gun control. Robling, for example, supports stronger background checks and increased mental health care.

“I wanted to show that we aren’t as different as the national media such as CNN or FOX makes us out to be,” Robling said. “If we have a civil debate over this issue, we can come up with a solution.”

The students’ protest was part of National School Walkout, a national movement sparked by the shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this year.

This is the second walkout the movement has held. The first one occurred on March 14, one month after the Parkland shooting. On that day, Southridge High School students held their walkout in the school gymnasium, and about a third of the students participated. At Northeast Dubois, students held a Walk Up Day on March 14, another part of the response to the Parkland shooting, that focused on building camaraderie and acts of kindness.

Jasper had an e-learning day on March 14, so they couldn’t participate. They decided to participate in today’s event instead.

This time, the walkout took place on the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, a tragedy current high school seniors were not even alive for.

Their teachers, however, are old enough to remember Columbine.

Students embraced following the walkout today at Jasper High School.

Media teacher Evan Elrod said he was in high school in Kentucky when Columbine happened, though he doesn’t remember his school reacting much to it. The school shooting that sticks out in his mind from his school days happened two years before Columbine in Paducah, Kentucky. A 14-year-old boy opened fire on a prayer circle outside Heath High School, killing three and wounding five.

“That one probably effected me more because it was much closer to home,” Elrod said via email. “And we used to have a ‘meet at the pole’ type of prayer group every morning too at our high school.”

Elrod and his wife went to college with one of the survivors of that shooting, Missy Jenkins, and the Elrods both worked at Heath High School before moving to Jasper. Elrod also has several friends in the Benton, Kentucky, area where in January a shooting occurred at Marshall County High School, killing two and injuring 18.

“(It’s) scary stuff that we obviously need to take serious, but somehow not let us become paranoid or effect the educational experience most students truly want,” Elrod said.

At Jasper High School, several safety measures are already in place, and more will be added in light of recent events, Principal Brian Wilson said in an email sent to students and staff prior to the walkout. The school regularly holds drills for all types of emergencies, including active shooters, a second social worker came on staff on Monday, entry supervisions have been increased and more security cameras have been installed. There are also plans in place to renovate the main entrance so that visitors must walk through the front office before entering the school atrium, and a film will be added to the windows to make them bullet proof.

Wilson’s email also included information about the walkout and the school handbook guidelines for student protest. Greater Jasper Schools’ policy allows students to protest during school hours and on school grounds as long as students “do not use obscenity, slanderous, or libelous statements, or disruptive tactics, or advocate violation of the law or school regulations,” according to the school handbook. Students must also work with administrators to plan the protest.

According to U.S. law, students can exercise their first amendment right to protest at their schools. The Supreme Court decision of 1969 in Tinker vs Des Moines Schools established that students maintain certain first amendment rights while at school, Wilson said in his email. The case involved a group of students wearing black arm bands to protest the Vietnam war.

Although today’s walkout took place on the anniversary of Columbine, and that shooting is often talked about in discussions of school shootings, Columbine was far from the first school shooting in the U.S. According to data compiled by K12 Education, an online database of resources and materials for educators, the first recorded school shooting on U.S. soil happened on July 26, 1764, when four Native Americans from the Lenape tribe entered a schoolhouse near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania, and killed the schoolmaster and about 10 children.

Shootings at schools continued throughout the early history of the U.S., usually caused by accident — students and teachers were allowed to carry, and did carry, firearms at school for much of U.S. history — or by someone entering the school with a single victim in mind, the data on K12 Education shows.

Schools saw an increase in violence in 1884 as children copied the Jesse James gang, but the first known mass shooting in the U.S. where students were shot happened on April 9, 1891, when 70-year-old James Foster fired a shotgun at a group of students in the playground of St. Mary’s Parochial School in Newburgh, New York. Knives and rocks have also been popular weapons in school violence throughout American history.

The most violent time in school shooting history happened in the 1980s, when guns were still allowed on school property, and early 1990s. In the 1992-93 school year alone, 55 deaths occurred due to school shootings, according to K12 Education. By the 1999-00 school year, K12 Education’s data shows that gun-related deaths at schools fell to 25. Throughout the first decade of the 21st century, K12 Education’s data shows gun-related deaths on school property stayed at or below 20, with the exception of the 2003-04 year when 29 people were killed and the 2006-07 year when 38 people were killed.

In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Gun Free School Zones Act, creating gun-free zones around schools, but school shootings continued, prompting students across the country to speak out.

In the two months since the Parkland shooting, survivors such as Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg have mobilized, organizing protests for better gun control and making appearances on national TV. Their work inspired Head to become active in Jasper.

“I do think that young people like myself should participate in things like this,” Head said. “I think it’s important to get involved and raise awareness of injustice.”

 




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