WINDHAM — A group of approximately 200 students gathered outside of Windham High School Wednesday morning as part of the national school walkouts geared towards ending gun violence.
The walkouts followed the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The Windham event was originally supposed to happen last Wednesday, March 14 along with other similar events across the country, but was postponed in RSU 14 because of a district-wide snow day.
Scheduled at 10 a.m. during the high school’s advisory period, this week’s walkout was organized primarily by high school seniors Hanna Griffin and Maggie Nunn. A majority of the participants appeared to be middle school students, who walked with staff from their school that shares a campus with the high school.
“We’re here today to come together, and to stand up for what we believe in,” Griffin told the group. “We are united.”
Senior Elizabeth McBride also spoke Wednesday morning. She told the crowd that at the High School that day, there would be an opportunity to register to vote and guidance on how to reach out to elected officials.
“It’s important that this doesn’t end here,” she said.
The organizers acknowledged that not all of their classmates agreed with the walkout and that they’d received some pushback from their peers.
Regardless of differing opinions, the student organizers hoped that classmates who disagree with them would still be taking the opportunity to register to vote and engage in the democratic process.
“That’s basically what we would say to anybody,” Nunn said.
As part of the event, the names of the 17 victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were read aloud and there was a moment of silence in their honor.
“These lives were lost, and we can’t let it happen again,” Griffin said.
“It could happen to literally anybody at any time if things don’t change,” Nunn said after the event, referencing another school shooting at Great Mills High School in Maryland this week.
Nunn said that rather than wearing orange as had been promoted at other walkouts, the Windham students encouraged participants to wear maroon as a symbol of unity with Parkland students. Both Windham and Marjory Stoneman Douglas high schools have maroon as part of their school colors.
Windham students also circled around the veteran’s memorial and flagpole outside the school Wednesday.
The organizers led the group in a series of chants, including “enough is enough” and “save lives, not guns.”
The student organizers said they were initially disappointed when last week’s snowstorm caused the event to be postponed, but found the administration helpful in efforts to reschedule.
“We didn’t doubt that they would support us in this,” Nunn said. The students said they understood the school needed time to put a safety plan together for the rescheduled event.
RSU 14 Superintendent Sanford Prince sent a March 16 letter to district families acknowledging the request from students to reschedule the walkout event. Prince said that he would “grant our students the make-up time that they have requested.”
“As their superintendent, I am proud of their desire to show solidarity and support for the students impacted by the tragedy in Parkland, Florida,” Prince wrote. “I wish to reiterate that our school district is not endorsing any particular viewpoint, whether those of the organizers of the National School Walkout or others. The events and activities that are scheduled to take place during this time of planned “recess” are student planned and student driven.”
Windham High School Principal Chris Howell echoed those points Wednesday.
Howell, who said he is leaving his role as Principal this summer to become the district’s Assistant Superintendent, heard from parents who had questions and concerns about the walkout event.
“There were definitely some questions about politics,” Howell said, adding that there are usually safety concerns when large events are held.
Middle School Principal Drew Patin said the priority Wednesday was ensuring “above all, that they’re safe out here.”
He said that the Middle School didn’t play a role in organizing the event at the High School.
“It’s really about supporting the kids, and making sure they understand what a peaceable protest is,” Patin said.
Following the event, Howell went up to the student organizers and told them he was proud of them.
“Any time that kids take on something like that, you can’t help be proud,” Howell said later. “And that’s whether you agree or disagree.”
Windham was not the only area school district where walkout plans were complicated by snow. SAD 6 Superintendent Paul Penna said there are currently no plans to reschedule the planned walkout at Bonny Eagle High School.
In a March 16 letter to students and parents, Gray-New Gloucester High School and Middle School administrators said that the walkout would not be rescheduled but that there would be other events where the school community can discuss “school safety, culture, and climate.”
“There will not be a ‘walkout’ as planned due to the fact that this national event already took place. However, students will have the choice to participate in the other events,” the letter said.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Students from Windham High School and Windham Middle School gathered outside of the high school on March 21 as part of the national walkouts in protest of gun violence.