Students at the private John Carroll School in Bel Air joined a nationwide demonstration Wednesday morning on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., school massacre, assembling on the school’s football field for a prayer service.
Public school students in Harford County were supposed to remain in their classrooms, some participating in special “learning modules” about school safety and firearms, after Barbara Canavan, superintendent of Harford County Public Schools, prohibited students from walking out of class.
That did not stop a group of Havre de Grace High School students, some holding signs, from walking out, accompanied by a few staff members. There was also a police presence at both ends of the Congress Avenue block that divides the main building from the school’s separate gymnasium and auditorium, which houses the school’s popular music program.
There were no protesting students in evidence outside the front or side Fallston High School, another of the Harford public schools where students had indicated on a website they planned to walk out. Media members were told by the school administration not to enter school property. A few media members were around the perimeter of the Fallston High School property, but no signs of any students walking out at the established 10 a.m. time for the national walkout.
At John Carroll, there was a reading of the names of the 17 who were killed in Florida as well as one who died recently in a school shooting in Alabama. The ding of a bell followed each name.
Havre de Grace Police were positioned – in marked and unmarked patrol cars and on foot – at different spots adjacent to campus, which is bisected by Congress Avenue. Chains stretch across Congress during the school day at the intersections with North Adams Street and North Juniata Street while students cross between the main building and the gymnasium/auditorium.
Officers were at Adams and Congress, in the auditorium lot at Congress and Juniata and across Juniata near the basketball courts. A staff member wearing a maroon windbreaker stood in the chained-off section of Congress Avenue before the students came out.
Students began filing out, a few at first, but the number grew to about 50 to 60. They gathered at Congress and Adams, and some walked in groups of three west along Congress, escorted by the staffer.
The students then organized themselves into a line and marched in a circle along Congress Avenue. Some carried signs with slogans such as “17 min 4 17 lives,” in remembrance of the 17 lives lost in Florida last month. School staffers could be seen taking pictures of the marchers.
The students then formed a large circle and held hands for a few moments of silence. They then returned to school in an orderly fashion – two girls posed with their sign while a third took a photo of them. The police left and the school went back to business as usual, as other students left the main building, crossed Congress Avenue and headed toward the gym.
There were no issues and no conflicts among students, police or staff.
“We were there just to ensure the safety of the children who were exercising their First Amendment rights,” police spokesperson Cpl. Daniel Petz stated in an email.
Public reaction to the walkout was mixed. One man sitting in a pickup truck at Juniata and Congress could be heard complaining that it was just a way for students to get out of class.
Another man driving along Juniata honked and pumped his fist while passing.
John Tudor, who lives near Adams and Congress, observed the walkout from the sidewalk.
“I thought it was a good thing,” he said of the students’ actions.
Tudor, 68, said he graduated from HHS in 1969. He recalled protesting the Vietnam War at age 18, but he eventually joined the Air Force. Tudor praised the present-day Havre de Grace students’ actions, but he also blasted gun control, Democrats, socialism and he blamed local authorities in Broward County, Fla., and federal law enforcement for not doing enough to stop the alleged shooter before he committed the massacre.
“I own a gun, and my gun didn’t say to me, ‘Oh Jon, want to take me out and shoot people?’” Tudor said.
The self-described veteran and patriot praised the students for exercising their freedoms, though, calling the walkout “a nice protest.”
Meanwhile, there is a heavy presence of school resource officers around all public high schools in the county following an incident Tuesday at Joppatowne High School in which police say four juveniles entered the school and allegedly assaulted a JHS student in the cafeteria.
Several hundred of the school’s nearly 700 students gathered around the blue circle at the midfield of the school’s football field for a 10-minute ceremony that opened with a prayer by Abby Earnest, who organized the service.
“Merciful God, we come together around our concern for the safety of our fellow students in schools across our country. There are too many stories of violence that threaten to turn a place of learning into a place of suffering. We know that we too, much like the disciples, may be tempted to lock ourselves behind doors because of this fear. But we also remember that you have given us your Holy Spirit of peace and of mission. We are called to pray and to act,” she said.
Students offered prayers for an end to violence in schools, for solace and comfort for the families whose children have died because of school violence, for a renewed commitment of concern for the well-being of students, for the courage and strength of students, teachers and staff, for students to devote themselves to taking action against the fear and for all those who have died because of violence in schools.
After the prayers, the names of each of the 17 people killed in Florida and one person killed in a school shooting in Alabama Thursday were read, followed by the ding of a bell,.
Students at the school gathered on the field during what would have been their advisory period, similar to a homeroom, Kathy Walsh, director of marketing for John Carroll, said. Students who stayed behind were accompanied by staff members.
The service started as a way to commemorate the students who were killed in Florida, said Earnest, a 16-year-old sophomore from Fallston.
“It’s an example of something horrible that happened, something we want to fix about society,” Earnest said. “They were all decent people who didn’t deserve what happened to them.”
Senior Grace Hollin, 17, was thankful to Earnest for the prayer service.
“As important as it is for me to be safe, I’m going to college to be an elementary school teacher. I work with 18 4-year-olds,” Hollin said. “To see the effects [of Florida] is really hard and I don’t want to have that kind of future.”
By having the service, the students are able to offer their thoughts and prayers.
“It’s also giving you change and action,” Hollin said. “Having the next leaders who speak out now is important.”
Both students said it was nice to see their classmates unified.
“Kids need to be nicer to each other in general,” Earnest said. “It was cool to see kids coming together.”
“This is something kids can all agree on,” Hollin added.
Earnest said she was pleased with the turnout.
“I think it went awesome. I was so excited to see everybody outside, it was really, really, really cool,” she said. “I was hoping for a good turnout, that everybody would be excited, everybody would be supportive and that’s what happened.”
Her mom, Eileen Earnest, attended the service and watched from above the field.
“I’m so proud of her,” Eileen Earnest said. “Just that it matters she has a voice and these kids have a say. People say kids’ voices don’t matter, it’s ridiculous. They’re voters in zero to four years.”
President Stephen DiBiagio said he’s proud of the students.
“The students led it, they engaged the student body,” DiBiagio said. “I’m so proud of their approach, it reflects the deep sentiment about something that’s important to everybody.”
At Fallston High, everything appeared quiet between 10 and 10:17 a.m., the time planned for the national walkout to honor the 17 victims of the Florida massacre. No students were observed outside the front or on th sides of the property.
A reporter, observing from the Fallston Volunteer Fire Company, which is adjacent to the north side of the school property and next to the softball field, did not see any outside activity. The football stadium behind the school is not visible from that point or along Carrs Mill Road where the main entrance to the school is located.
Walking along Carrs Mill, a few vehicles could be seen entering and leaving the school’s driveway and parking area, but the only person observed leaving the main building was an adult who appeared headed for a bank of portable classrooms between the school and the football field.
Two videographers from Baltmore TV stations set up across Carrs Mill Road from the driveway entrance, but left around 10:07 to check out other vantage points.
The school security debate has ratcheted up in Harford County in recent days in the wake of the county school system’s superintendent’s announcement that students will not be allowed outside during the school day, under threat of possible discipline, to show solidarity with the national walkout to remember the Florida victims and to bring awareness to the need for more secure schools and tougher gun controls.
Some parents and students and others in the community have criticized Superintendent Barbara Canavan’s directive, which members of the Harford County Board of Education said was made administratively, according to the board president, and without consultation with them beforehand.
The board, however, has not publicly criticized Canavan, nor have any members called publicly for her to change her position. Canavan said in a letter distributed to parents and students on March 7 that allowing students to leave their buildings during the 17-minute walkout – timed to recognize the Florida massacre’s 17 student and staff victims – would compromise her students’ safety.
The John Carroll prayer service will be held on the school football field at 10 a.m. to coincide with the national demonstration. The school, which has approximately 700 students in grades 9 through 12, is affiliated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
At the Harford County Sheriff’s Office Southern Precinct station late Tuesday afternoon, Capt. Mike Crabbs, commander of the Sheriff’s Office Community Services Division – which includes nine school resource officers under its umbrella – addressed the media addressed the media about the Joppatowne High incident earlier that day.
Four juveniles, who were not students at JHS, got into the school and assaulted a student in the cafeteria, according to police.
Crabbs stressed the method and location where the juveniles got into the school is still under investigation.
“They made it into the school, made it into the cafeteria and confronted the victim,” he said.
The condition of the 18-year-old victim, who was hospitalized, was unknown as of Tuesday evening, according to Crabbs. He said investigators had not determined if the victim was targeted.
Deputies will be patrolling around elementary schools in the county, and all school resource officers will be in their assigned middle and high schools Wednesday in response to the nationwide walkouts planned for that morning, “just to ensure the safety and security of the community,” Crabbs said.
Sheriff’s Office SROs are assigned to C. Milton Wright, Edgewood, Fallston, Hafrord Technical, Joppatowne, North Harford and Patterson Mill high schools, as well as Edgewood Middle School and Magnolia Middle School, according to Crabbs.
Police have said two of juveniles allegedly involved in Tuesday’s Joppatowne High incident were picked up at Edgewood Middle School in a stolen vehicle driven by one of the other two involved.
Police departments in Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace are responsible for providing resource officers at the schools within their jurisdictions.
Aegis staff members David Anderson and Allan Vought contributed to this report.
This story will be updated.