About 80 students at Century High School walked out of class Wednesday morning in solidarity with the National School Walkout recognizing those killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida February 14.
As 10 a.m. hit, students began pouring into the halls of Century High School. Some wore orange, others walked with their arms linked, all were nearly silent.
Students at Carroll County Public Schools and other educational institutions around the county participated in the National School Walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 14. CCPS officials said they would allow students to participate in a modified version of the walkout, but not let students leave their buildings, citing safety concerns.
The group of approximately 80 Century students gathered in the school's gymnasium, forming a circle around junior Gillian Boline, who read the 17 names of those who died in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, exactly one month ago.
"Alyssa Alhadeff was age 14. She was a player for Parkland travel soccer club … Scott Beigel was 35. He was a geography teacher at Parkland. He was killed as he tried to usher students back into his classroom when the shooting broke out," Boline said.
For five minutes, Boline, 17, read through the names of the victims, describing each of them and quoting things that family members and friends had said about them.
"May we have a moment of silence for every victim in every school who's ever suffered due to unnecessary violence?" Boline asked, as the group of students bowed their heads.
After the moment of silence, the group began to talk, sharing thoughts on the incident and urging action to keep kids safe. And despite missing a portion of class, the students who participated said they felt it was worth it.
Westminster High School principal offers #WalkUpNotOut address over the school's PA system on National School Walkout Day March 14, 2018.
Senior J.P. Marcotte, of Eldersburg, said he thought the walkout was a "great chance" for teenagers to show they do pay attention and know what's happening.
"We're not ignorant to what's happening in the world, and we all kind of want to at least have a conversation about what needs to be done in regard to gun control and in regard to public safety," he said.
Marcotte,17, said he was missing his technical theater class to participate in the event. He said he was happy to see students walk out, because "more speech is always better than less" and as long as people are having public discourse, it's better than nothing.
Boline said she missed her trigonometry class today to be at the walkout, but that it was "so worth it."
"We had a lot of people turn up — more than I ever expected," she said. "It was really empowering."
People got an opportunity to speak and share opinions, she said, and they got to honor the victims. The more important thing about the event was about honoring those who have died, she said.
"So far, there's been a lot of strife over how political [the discussion has been, but] I think what's important is to honor those people, and to mourn them and to make sure that never happens again," Boline said.
School administrators met with student leaders in the days leading up to the demonstrations to ensure they could "express themselves peacefully in a way that protects the safety of every student, including those who both do and do not participate, and respects the views of every member of our school community," CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie wrote in an email to parents Monday morning. However, Guthrie warned that "disorderly conduct" that disrupts school operations will not be acceptable and will be addressed with the code of conduct.
"Specifically, students who leave the school building without authorization would face an unexcused absence, which could affect their ability to participate in extracurricular activities or to make up missed classwork," he wrote. "I encourage you to talk to your child[ren] about how they may be feeling about this topic."
No students walked out through the doors of Westminster High School at 10 a.m. Wednesday, but Principal John Baugher's voice could be heard over the PA system from outside.
"I would like to say a few words to our students and staff," his voice crackled over the speaker. "I'd like you to pause education for a few seconds here."
Speaking in moving terms about the nationwide response to the Florida shooting, Baugher encouraged students to embrace the humanity of their fellows instead of marching out in protest of congressional inaction on gun control.
"Instead of walking out of our school for a mere 17 minutes, and for that moment to be over and nothing accomplished, I am going to challenge each and every person within our building," he said. "I am challenging you to walk up, instead of walking out. I am challenging you to make a difference today, and the remaining days of Westminster."
Before asking students and faculty to stand for a few moments of silence in memory of those who lost their lives in Florida, Baugher challenged them to "to walk up to a fellow student who sits alone at lunch and invite him or her to sit with your group," and, "to find 14 students and three adults to walk up to and say something nice, in honor of those that passed away at [Marjory] Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida."
And he closed by asking if students and faculty could persist in their efforts, even once this particular moment had passed.
"The question remains though, can we continue to remember to walk up every day at Westminster High to make our school stronger, better and safer," Baugher said.
Century Principal Troy Barnes said his goal for Wednesday's walkout was to provide boundaries, then get out of the students' way.
"Obviously it's a disruption anytime students get up and leave instruction," he said. "But I think our students handled it very, very well."
Barnes said any time students can come together and have a conversation, it's good, adding that they value discourse at the school.
"I'm proud of the way they handled themselves. They handled themselves the way I expected Century students to handle themselves," Barnes added.
But, while the event went smoothly, after concerns over a possible threat, many students stayed home from Century on Wednesday. Barnes said 237 students were absent Wednesday out of 1,122 students total in the school.
Tuesday, the school sent an email saying the threat was "not credible."
"A rumor of a threat was recently reported to administration at Century High School. The threat was fully investigated and was determined to be unfounded. Many of our students were talking about the issue today during school," the email reads. "Please be assured that this rumor was thoroughly investigated and determined to be not credible."
At Liberty High School in Eldersburg, a coalition of students organized a class walkout. Students gathered in one of the school's gymnasiums.
Between 180 to 200 students participated, according to freshman Mariana Caplan, who helped to organize the student action.
The students read the names of each victim of the Parkland shooting and rang a bell. Then students took turns speaking about their views. The event lasted about a half-hour, slightly longer than the originally planned 17 minutes, Caplan said.
"It was very comforting," Caplan said. "It was a very productive session."
Originally, the organizing students had planned to demonstrate on April 20, a date chosen by national organizers because it is the anniversary of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School. But after a countywide email sent out about potential walkouts, Caplan said many believed that the demonstration would be held Wednesday. The student organizers chose to plan an event with only 24 hours to do so, hoping to leverage student passion.
Caplan said that this morning she and another student organizer were called to speak with the school's principal, Ken Goncz. She said he "did not necessarily condone the demonstration," but students felt more confident after speaking to administration about the plans. Goncz was present at the event, she said.
The student coalition is also working to organize rides for students to participate in marches in Washington, D.C., and encouraging students to write letters to legislators.
While CCPS spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said most events went smoothly Wednesday, South Carroll High School did have an issue.
Drew Zirkle, an 11th-grader from South Carroll, emailed the Times and said there were specialized zones in the testing center and cafeteria for the walkout on Wednesday.
Zirkle, 16, of Mount Airy, said "unrest" began in both areas and in the cafeteria, a group of students decided to leave the building. He said the names of those who left the building were taken down "so they could be disciplined."
"As of now, it is expected the students will get a 3 day in school suspension," Zirkle said.
The other room "erupted into political discussion," Zirkle said "but was immediately verbally disciplined by teachers and administrators for breaking the silence." Zirkle said both groups of students encountered "hostility" from the school administration for their attempts to protest "in their own way."
Gaddis said a group of students went to the cafeteria but decided they were going to go outside. Principal Diane Cooper told them they could not go outside for their own safety, Gaddis said, but the students went anyway.
No disciplinary action has been taken as of now, Gaddis said, adding that the administration is talking with student leaders to find out what happened.
Private school participation
Students and faculty from Springdale Preparatory School in New Windsor walked outside to participate in a school-organized remembrance of the lives lost in Parkland, Florida as well as a discussion on how to make their own school safer.
Some private schools also had demonstrations planned for Wednesday. St. John Catholic School in Westminster held a prayer session at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims of the Florida shooting.
In New Windsor, students and faculty from Springdale Preparatory School walked outside to participate in a school-organized remembrance of the lives lost in Parkland as well as a discussion on how to make their own school safer.
Students in grades five through 11 were allowed to participate, but it was not mandatory. Family members were also invited. About 20 of the school's 25 to 30 students attended.
Administrators asked students questions like "How can we make our school safer?" "How can we reach out so people don't feel left out?" and "How are we all affected by violence in schools?" and allowed them to respond. Several days ago, the school held a larger assembly on school safety.
One student said that more cameras could be added to the interiors of schools. Another said that she was affected by the shooting in Parkland because the victims were around her age and an incident like that could happen anywhere.
Marissa Rudich, 13, said it was important to her to participate because she has lost a family member before and she wanted to support family members of the shooting victims.
The Reisterstown teen missed a few minutes of her history class but said she believed she was doing something that was a part of history.
Director of Admissions Glenn Singer read the names and ages of the 17 killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. This was followed by a moment of silence.
"The most important thing we can do is be empathetic," Head of School Johnny Graham said as he addressed the group.
Next week, students will be able to write letters to state and national leaders.
Springdale students will spend time in the coming weeks writing letters to the president and Maryland's Senators and representatives in Congress "regarding their expectations related to the vital topic of school safety," according to the message sent to parents.
Graham said it's important for students to know they have a civic voice and that they can "advocate for the type of learning environment you hope you'll have in the future."
Singer helped to organize the event Wednesday morning. "I don't consider myself to be a political person at all," he said, but felt the issue of school violence transcends politics.
"The fact that this is happening over and over again is quite disheartening to me."
Singer said he would help any student to find transportation if they wished to travel to the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on March 24.
He said the movement hearkens back to other American movements in the 1960s and he hopes that the discussions will "inspire our students to want to make a difference."
After Florida shooting, discussions continue
Discussion regarding school safety in Carroll County actually ramped up just prior to the Florida shooting, when two Carroll delegates co-sponsored a Harford County lawmaker's proposal that would allow local boards of education to vote to allow teachers to carry firearms in school — a move Carroll County school administrators and the sheriff oppose.
Sheriff Jim DeWees has instead advocated for armed resource officers in schools, however, it's unclear where funds to pay for these individuals would be found.
CCPS Supervisor of School Security and Emergency Management Duane Williams previously told the Times that Carroll school staff is continually reviewing and making adjustments to its emergency responses in the wake of current events such as the Florida shooting.
Carroll County uses access control and screening of visitors through an intercom system as the first line of defense. Upon entering, visitors must also present photo ID, preferably a driver's license, at the front office. Each of Carroll's schools is also equipped with a public safety radio with an emergency button that allows administrators to notify the 911 dispatch center directly with the push of a button, Williams said.
Administration and faculty at each school are trained in Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events, or CRASE, from Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, he said. Williams conducts biannual, on-site training of CRASE and ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) for school staff in addition to emergency drills, he said.