2018-03-16 / Community

High school students join national walkout

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

Kennebunk High School students, from left, Elona Bodwell, Molly Hetzel and Carlyn Davis organized the a walkout scheduled for March 14. The walkout is part of a national movement that began after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. (Duke Harrington photo) Kennebunk High School students, from left, Elona Bodwell, Molly Hetzel and Carlyn Davis organized the a walkout scheduled for March 14. The walkout is part of a national movement that began after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — As with most things in the modern age, it comes with a hashtag — in this case, #Enough.

On Wednesday, teenagers at thousands of high schools across the nation, including more than 40 in Maine, were planning to walk out of class for 17 minutes, one for each fatality in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In that incident, former student Nikolas Cruz, 19, allegedly entered the building with an AR-15 rifle and opened fire.

Since then, the issue of gun control — or gun rights, to look at it from the other viewpoint — has once again come to the forefront of the national dialogue, as it has almost every time a mass shooting occurs, particularly when the victims are school children. But what makes this time different, what practically compels participation in the the National School Walkout to End Gun Violence, local students say, is conveyed in the hashtag.


At Kennebunk High School the walkout was organized by junior Molly Hetzel, sophomore Elona Bodwell and senior Carlyn Davis.

The event was scheduled to take place after this week’s print edition of the Post went to press, but on Monday the trio took time to sit down and explain why that are, in their words, “so passionate” about the issue. And they are quick to point out that while the Parkland shooting is “the tipping point,” and the subsequent protests and media appearances by students there the “inspiration,” the walkout is, in their eyes, not reactionary to this one event alone.

“This isn’t a new thing,” Davis said. “It’s genuinely scary to go to school every day not knowing who is going to be allowed in, and who among them has access to what weapons.”

“We saw a need for something like this to happen in order to feel empowered, not only as students, but as people who will be involved in government positions ourselves one day,” Bodwell said. “To organize our peers so that something really comes of this movement, that was really important to us.”

“The students in Florida were really the inspiration for this. They stood up first, before any of the adults did,” Hetzel said. “And, like Carley said, it is genuinely scary, to have an alarm go off and your first thought is, ‘Where do I hide?’”

The student organizers say the walkout will feature one-minute speeches from 12 students, followed by five minutes of silence. And they have been careful, they say, to include a variety of ages and personal viewpoints among the speakers. Although all three support some form of gun control — including a ban on assault weapons, and increasing the age to buy firearms to 21 — the point of the walkout is not expressly to rally against the right to keep and bear arms, which the Maine Constitution states, “shall not be questioned.” Instead, it is to foster more an better dialogue on the topic, they say, in hopes of keeping the pressure on political leaders so that the issue does once once again slide down the priority list.

The rally also is not intended to condemn the administrators of RSU 21 or high school.

“This is not against Kennebunk High School,” Davis said. “In our opinion, or mine at least, Kennebunk has done a lot to ensure our safety. But, there is always still that possibility. And even if our school is safe, all the other schools should be safe across the country. No one should be scared to go get an education. That’s why we want to participate in a call for change.”

“The issue is that it happens so commonly now,” Bodwell said. “We hear about it on the news so often. Every couple of days it feels like there’s a new school shooting. We’ve all just become so numb to it. When you hear about it every week it just becomes this ongoing, persistent thing. That’s why watching how the Parkland students have reacted makes us want to go out and do as much as we possibly can, because this kind of event should never seem normal.”

“I think I was desensitized, in part, I think, because this is something we’ve grown up with. It’s been a part of out lives,” Hetzel said. “But when the Parkland students spoke out, it was a wake up call. It was like, this has been happening all this time, but its not right. This shouldn’t be happening. So, it’s like, we’ve got to go. We’ve got to do something.

“I hope that this movement will spark a change in Congress and legislation and in the way we, as a society, approach the idea of gun safety and control,” Hetzel said. “I hope those changes can then allow us to feel safe both in and out of school. We’re all tired of being afraid.”

Already, the student protests have had an impact, at least in Florida, were legislators last week adopted stricter gun laws. The bill, signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott last Friday, raises the minimum age for firearm purchases from 18 to 21, requires a three-day waiting period to purchase a firearm, bans “bump stocks” that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire repeatedly with a single pull of the trigger and gives police more power to seize weapons from people deemed mentally unfit.

In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage has publicly opposed many of those measures, particularly an increase in minimum age limits.

Meanwhile, although some schools have sought to curtail or control the walkouts, Kennebunk High School Principal Susan Cressey said the students will be allowed to leave the building. Teachers and other faculty are not allowed to participate directly, although some are allowed to tag along as safety monitors.

“We felt this should be a student event. This is entirely their thing,” she said.

“RSU 21 is not encouraging, supporting or facilitating this walk-out,” RSU 21 Superintendent Katie Hawes wrote in a letter to parents. “While our teachers may be tempted to join the walkout either in protest or support, doing so would disrupt and interfere with the operation of our schools.

“With that said, our local law enforcement agencies stand ready to provide an increased presence on that date. Students will not be disciplined for peaceful protest as long as it does not disrupt the school environment. They will be held responsible for making up any missed work.”

A number of incidents have arisen across the nation and in Maine since students returned to school following the February break in the wake of the Parkland shooting, including an alleged social media threat made by a Cape Elizabeth student that closed the high school there on Monday and prompted mobilization of South Portland’s SWAT team. The 17-year-old student said to have made that threat was arrested and charged with terrorizing.

According to Hawes, there (was) an increased police presence at Kennebunk High School in the week after the Parkland shooting, while a previously-planned “active shooter” training event went forward.

“In the coming weeks, we are expanding our collaborative efforts with Kennebunk and Kennebunkport police departments and the York County Sheriff’s Office by providing two increased training opportunities,” Hawes said, noting that, “key emergency management personnel” will be sent to a training course specifically designed to “evaluate and identify security weakness” in public schools buildings.

“We are also exploring a few different professional development resources that would help local law enforcement officers and RSU 21 employees better identify potential warning signs and further align our prevention, identification, and intervention procedures,” Hawes said. “Once we have a designated resource, we will notify parents and community members in effort to create a common understanding and dialogue.”

Kennebunk High School recently instituted a new protocol for visitors to the building.

“You will need to bring your driver’s license with you,” read a notice on the school’s online bulletin board. “It is the same machine used at the other schools in the district. You will sign in on the touch screen with your license; it will take your picture and print out a badge. When you leave, you sign out using a code that is on your badge.”

According to an analysis done by the Washington Post, there have been at least 170 school shootings since the 1999 incident at Columbine High School, in Colorado that many have tagged as the beginning of the recent mass shooting phenomenon. Many Second Amendment activists have derided that calculation, saying it includes things like a student suicide in the parking lot if a school that had been closed. Many of these activists claim the issue is not guns, but mental health, with that, rather than access to high-capacity firearms, seen as the common link between recent incidents.

Indeed, there have been numerous claims that the Parkland shooting was preventable.

Cruz is said to have been flagged repeatedly as a potential danger to the school community, including more than two dozen reported infractions of school behavior policies between 2012 and 2017 and 39 claimed visits to his home by deputies of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department between 2010 and 2017.

But the Kennebunk High School walkout organizers say it’s not an either/or debate.

Acknowledging one cause does not eliminate a need to address another, they say.

“There are real issues that people have that need to be dealt with before they should have access to a gun, where they can hurt other people or themselves,” Davis said, suggesting that all schools should have a staff psychologist, just as they have a school nurse.

“People are not getting the mental health help they need,” she said. “That to me is a huge issue, even bigger than the gun control.”

“We hear its not the gun, it’s the person, which is true, but how is it even possible for the people who would do this to obtain a gun. The screening should be so much more,” Bodwell said. “The shooter from Parkland should never in any universe been able to obtain a gun.”

“There are so many factors to why these things happen,” Hetzel said. “There’s toxic masculinity, lack of gun control and mental health and mental illness. But I think no mental health can be a grey area. It can be hard to control something that’s wired into one person’s brain differently than others. And it’s hard to know sometimes when somebody is not doing well. But guns are a black and white issue. It’s very clear cut as to whether somebody can have a gun or not. That’s something we can have control over.”

The students hope to follow up on Wednesday’s planned walkout with additional community dialogues and student workgroups.

“We want to have as much conversation as we can about this, so that we are really prepared for the future,” Bodwell said.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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