Thousands of Hawaii Island students might leave their classrooms Wednesday morning to participate in National School Walkout Day, a student-led protest against gun violence.
Every school islandwide is creating a way for students — should they choose — to participate in the nationwide event, scheduled on the one-month anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The protest is championed under the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER organization. It’s slated to begin at 10 a.m. across all time zones and last 17 minutes, to honor the 17 people who died in the massacre. Youth EMPOWER said it hopes the movement encourages Congress to pass stricter gun legislation.
“Even though Hawaii does have strict gun laws, we just don’t want something like that to happen in our school,” said sophomore Wilmer Agpaoa, 15, who is spearheading the walkout at Keaau High School.
Youth EMPOWER is encouraging students to “walk out” in a way they choose — students can “circle their school holding hands … congregate in hallways to hold hands, sing songs or stand together in silence” or “speak the names of people killed by gun violence,” according to the organization’s website.
Some schools on the mainland have discouraged students from participating. A school district in Texas said it will suspend any student who participates in a walkout.
Hawaii’s Department of Education has said it “supports students’ constitutional rights to a peaceful assembly and free expression” and advised schools in a letter last week to create a designated “walkout area” for students wanting to participate.
The DOE said in the letter however that “disorderly conduct that disrupts school operations” is not acceptable and students who leave campus during the event will be marked with an unexcused tardiness or absence.
Agpaoa said he decided to organize a walkout at Keaau “because no one else was.” He’s asking Keaau students to congregate along a fence facing the highway and wave signs. He said the plan has been approved by Keaau administration and he’s hoping at least 500 Keaau students — or at least half the student body — will participate.
Agpaoa said since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut “there have been more than 200 shootings that have occurred in the U.S.” and thinks “that’s absolutely ridiculous.”
“After every school shooting, there are just thoughts and prayers,” Agpaoa said. “So, one week after (the shooting in Florida) it was like, nothing was happening. So we’re heading out (Wednesday) to make our voices heard and hopefully that protest encourages Congress to take action and pass sensible gun legislation.”
“When Wilmer told me about this I knew I wanted to join because I really believe we need gun safety laws and reform,” added Keaau freshman Jancy Rapoza, who said she and her group of about 20 friends also plan to participate. “I think it’s important because we shouldn’t have to come to school and worry about someone with a gun.”
In the Honokaa-Kealakehe-Kohala-Konawaena Complex Area, schools were advised to draft their own plan according to how they think is best, according to Superintendent Art Souza.
“Some schools might just attach 17 minutes to an existing recess period and others might decide they want a particular space and time,” Souza said. “So we’ll leave it to them. And there’s no political statements, this is simply to honor the memory of those who lost their lives (in Florida).”
Hilo High School is allowing students to gather on the campus patio during the designated walkout time and read aloud any comments they have about school safety or gun violence.
Waiakea High School will be passing out paper butterflies to students and encouraging them to write out their “goal” on how to make others feel included, said student body president Leira Joyce Vea. She said Waiakea students also will be asked to write on a banner positive ways to end school violence.
“We chose butterflies because they are one of the most colorful creatures in our world,” Vea said. “They evolve and change and they serve as a reminder to flap our wings and cause a change.”
Vea said Waiakea’s focus is “inclusiveness” and “ending school violence in general, not just gun violence.” She said the walkout event is being organized by student government leaders who hope to see schoolwide participation.
Participating Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science students will wear a common color and also walk out to a designated space, assistant school director Terri York said. York said the goal at HAAS is “to support students who want to participate” though “it’s completely voluntary” and “safety is our No. 1 priority.”
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