Students at Mountain Ridge High School joined four other high schools in Glendale and hundreds more around the nation Wednesday, March 14 in a school walkout to protest gun violence in schools and plead lawmakers for stricter gun control.
A few hundred students gathered around signs that read “ENOUGH” on Mountain Ridge’s football field, for a 17-minute walkout, beginning at 10 a.m., to honor the 17 killed in the shooting one month prior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“This could have very well been us,” said senior Rylee Tinnel, who organized the event with fellow senior Jacob Sumner. “Yes, it happened in Florida on that day, but what makes it that way? What stops that from happening on our campus tomorrow?”
In a speech Ms. Tinnel gave during the walkout, she laid out a list of requests for lawmakers she believes would make schools like Mountain Ridge safer.
“We want more gun control laws, and we want them enforced, extensive background checks, mandatory waiting periods, age restrictions and an end to the gun-show loophole. Enough is enough,” she said.
Similar demonstrations of mourning and protest took place at Apollo, Cactus, Deer Valley and Ironwood and Raymond S. Kellis high schools March 14, according to documentation by news media and on social media.
Several schools locally and nationally are planning another gun control walkout next month on April 20, the 20-year anniversary of the school shooting in Columbine, Colorado. Mountain Ridge student organizers said they’re not planning any more school walkouts, but, according to act.indivisible.org, five Glendale high schools are planning walkouts for that day: Apollo, Copper Canyon, Glendale, Independence and Ironwood.
Ms. Tinnel and Mr. Sumner’s activism did not end with this walkout. Both plan to participate in the “March for Our Lives” gun control march to the state capital building in Phoenix Saturday, March 24 and bring a small group of friends.
They also plan to keep the Twitter account created for the walkout, @MRHSwalkout, alive with resources for those who support their cause, like contact information for local lawmakers.
“We want to get people the means to contact our local government and speak their minds to the people that are at direct liberty to make a change,” Ms. Tinnel said.
They will also use an app for sending mass texts, Remind 101, to send out similar information to those who sign up. The app is designed for teachers to send reminders to students. Most Mountain Ridge teachers use the app, Ms. Tinnel said.
Both young activists have their eyes on election season, as well. Mr. Sumner is not yet 18, but has pre-registered to vote so that he will automatically be registered when he turns 18. He is also interning for the campaign of Kathy Hoffman, who is running for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Ms. Tinnel is 18 and is signing up to be able to register voters. She said she believes she and her peers can make a difference at the polls.
“I’m going to be talking to my friends because I know a lot of them aren’t registered to vote because they don’t know how easy it is,” she said.
The original plan for the March 14 walkout was to walk on the sidewalk along 67th Avenue, which borders the school. Mr. Sumner said the plan was to protest for 90 minutes to two hours.
The school didn’t like that plan.
Citing safety concerns, school administrators threatened to suspend anyone who went off campus to protest.
“Our focus really was trying to keep the kids safe, as safe as possible,” Deer Valley Unified School District spokeswoman Monica Allread said. “And when we learned that there were plans to leave campus, we really felt we needed to step in to make sure that kids were safe.”
Ms. Tinnel said she, Mr. Sumner and a close group of supporters were prepared to face suspension, which she said was up to three days, according to the school handbook. However, the school also threatened to suspend participants from sports and bar them from walking at graduation. The latter, Ms. Tinnel said, made students hesitate, noting families were coming in for graduation, which parents had been waiting years to witness.
A teacher recommended the school and students find a compromise. The one that was settled on was that the school allowed the students to walk out without punishment for 17 minutes, something that many other schools across the country allowed March 14, and let them use the football field and sound system for the protest.
District administrators wanted to stay neutral on the issue.
“We neither discouraged nor encouraged students to take part,” Ms. Allread said. “Our focus was on teaching and learning and keeping kids safe.”
The field is surrounded by Mountain Ridge’s campus and the bordering Hillcrest Middle School. Though the protest was not visible from the street, several members of the media were there to cover it, including a news helicopter that flew overhead.
Both Ms. Tinnel and Mr. Sumner said the walkout had a better turnout than they expected. Ms. Tinnel said it may have gone better than if it had been along the street.
A protest along the road would have had a different feel, she said. It would have been longer and louder, with more screaming and picketing, “but I think it would have lost that mourning aspect,” she said. “So, I am kind of glad that it ended up on the field, because we were able to keep that as a primary goal of ours, which was to mourn and respect everybody that has been lost so senselessly.”
The event on the field was subdued and largely focused on mourning last month’s victims. Students walked onto the field, Ms. Tinnel read the names of the 17 victims from Florida last month and gave a short speech remembering those victims and pleading for gun control. For the remaining seven minutes, students stood in silent protest, mourning the loss of the Stoneman Douglas students.
Afterward, Ms. Tinnel acknowledged that a protest along the road would have been difficult to control, which was a concern of the district.
“When students step off campus, we lose all control of trying to keep them safe,” Ms. Allread said.
One student said afterward that some who showed up for the event did not support the cause of gun control. Ms. Tinnel agreed, saying she saw some who were vocal opponents of the protest show up just to see how it turned out. The heavy majority though, she said, were there because they believed in the message.
“There were fish in the pond that weren’t there for the right reasons, but I saw hundreds of people there for the right reasons,” Ms. Tinnel said.
Ms. Allread noted that several more students stayed in class than came out to the field, saying a few hundred of the school’s estimated 2,250 students participated in the walkout.
Two students participated in the walkout despite their political upbringings, remarking jokingly as they walked onto the field that each of their parents would not be pleased to see them at the protest.
Ms. Tinnel said she’d had respectful conversations with classmates who opposed gun control and some that supported it but didn’t think it was a realistic goal.
The group’s Twitter page received several hostile comments from some students and rival Twitter page calling for a “sit-in” to oppose and mock the walkout was created before being deleted a few days later, students said.
Mark Carlisle can be reached at 623-876-2518 or firstname.lastname@example.org.