Students at Catonsville High School students walked out of the school building Wednesday at 10 a.m. to take part in the National School Walkout commemorating last month’s school shooting in Florida.
Students had planned to walk outside and stay for 17 minutes, to honor the 17 people killed that day, and students began assembling shortly after 10 a.m. at the school tennis courts.
School officials said media were not allowed on school property during the event.
Two Baltimore County police cars were present at the scene, and the gathering of students appeared peaceful. Students could be heard cheering and applauding.
One student held a sign that read: “We should feel lucky to go to school, not lucky to come home safe.”
“I’d like to continue this conversation over the next couple of weeks,” said principal Matthew Ames as he addressed the students who assembled, saying he plans to meet with student groups in the coming weeks.
By 10:24, the spot where hundreds of students had gathered was barren — the students had gone back inside.
Madison Monaghan, 18, a senior at Catonsville High and one of about seven student organizers of the walkout, said she felt about half of the students in her classroom participated in the walkout.
Principal Ames said that 450 students participated in the walkout according to attendance numbers from teachers.
The students had planned the event in advance and worked with school administrators.
“This is not a protest of our school and should not be taken as a sign of disrespect,” Gabriella McLean, the 17-year-old senior class president, wrote in a letter to the administration on behalf of students participating in the walkout. “Instead, this protest is meant to call attention to the failure of our federal representatives to protect our youth.”
The walkout came exactly a month after a Feb. 14 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. during which 14 students and three faculty members were killed.
Ames said last week that students who participated in the walkout will not be disciplined, but that if they do not return to class after 17 minutes their parents will be contacted to let them know their child did not return to the school.
On Wednesday morning, Ames told a reporter that the Baltimore County public school system did not want media on school property.
Officials had said teachers would take attendance before the 10 a.m. walkout, and would note which students do not return to class. Teachers who were not teaching during that time would guide students exiting the building and monitor them while they were outside, he said.
Police sent a traffic officer to provide support to the School Resource Officer, Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Peach said.
Monaghan said prior to the walkout that it had substantial support among people she knows.
Monaghan said she hopes the walkout will result in stronger firearm restrictions, including in-depth background checks, a waiting period and an age restriction for those under 21.
“There are people who are 18 in this school,” she said. “That’s terrifying.”
The day after the Parkland shooting, she said, there was “a lot of anxiety” at Catonsville.
“I trust that if anything were to happen, we’d be safe,” she said, praising the School Resource Officer and the faculty. Still, she said: “It could happen anywhere.”
Baltimore County Public Schools spokesman Mychael Dickerson said last week that there will not be consequences for students who partcipate.
“Our goal is to provide a constructive way for students to exercise their first amendment rights and at the same time we want to use it as a teachable moment,” he wrote in a statement. “We suggested that principals create ways to have a discussion with the students about why they wanted to take part and what they hoped to learn and express from participating.”