A couple of hundred of students at The School for Creative Studies staged a 17-minute walkout Wednesday, Feb. 28 to call for stricter gun laws and to remember the 17 people killed during the Valentine’s Day attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
After a moment of silence that lasted 17 symbolic seconds, one second for each victim, Kevin Roberts, a 17-year-old senior, led students in an emotional rally during which he took on the National Rifle Association (NRA) and challenged his schoolmates at the grades 6-12 year-round magnet school on Red Mill Road to be nicer to each other as another way to curb school violence.
Roberts first took on the NRA and its supporters who, he said, believe a ban on assault weapons would take away a right guaranteed under the Second Amendment.
“What they fail to realize is that these same guns that they swear up and down ensure their freedom take away freedom,” Roberts said. “With the loss of life comes the loss of freedom. The 17 people who lost their lives in Florida this Valentine’s Day no longer have the freedom to progress into society and to achieve their dreams. The 20 children who lost their lives in Sandy Hook no longer have the freedom to grow up and accomplish their dreams.”
Never miss a local story.
He was referring to the Dec. 14, 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in which 26 people — six of them adults, 20 children — were fatally shot.
Roberts said the number of school shootings and other mass shootings could be reduced with more intense background checks and mental health evaluations.
He said students can’t fix gun laws themselves but can have an impact in the effort to reduce school shootings by treating each other better.
“The most powerful thing we can do as students is to make sure that when everybody comes into this building, they feel welcome and they feel accepted,” Roberts said.
The walkout at SCS came on the day that Stoneman Douglas students returned to class for the first time since the accused shooter, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, allegedly pulled a fire alarm to draw students out of classrooms, tossed smoke grenades, then opened fire, killing 17 students and wounding several others.
Last week, in a show of solidarity with the survivors of that school shooting, hundreds of Jordan High School students rallied to express their frustration with Congress over the nation’s gun laws.
Students across the nation have planned two national events this month to get lawmakers’ attention, one is “National School Walkout Day” on March 14 and the other is “March for Our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, D.C.
Durham Public Schools Superintendent Pascal Mubenga told the DPS Board of Education last week that he and Durham Public Schools’ administrators will work with principals to develop a response to the “National School Walkout Day” and other such planned events.
“We are discussing our response to this call for action with our principals,” Mubenga said. “It’s very important that we balance our students’ desire for free expression on a subject that touches them directly with our responsibility to focus on teaching and learning. I have advised our principals to engage our students and our staff in dialogue about the best way to let our students’ voices to be heard while minimizing disruption.”
SCS Principal Renee Price said it’s important to allow students to express themselves about an issue that has touched them deeply.
“This affects them even though shootings have not happened here in the Triangle area, and students need a space to express themselves,” Price said. “So this was a positive way for them to express the way they’re feeling.”
Ashley Bautista, a 16-year-old junior, said students want to see changes in gun laws.
“We want to push for that change however we can,” Bautista said. “We want to unify as a school and bring awareness to what we believe.”
Natalia Artigas, a 17-year-old senior, said students must use their voices to advocate for the change they want to see,
“We should be entitled to the safe spaces where we are able to learn and grow with each other,” Artigas said, “When people have rifles, they have the right to take away our lives and our educations and affect the future of our nation.”
Kiah Talbott, a 15-year-old sophomore, said students should not have to attend school in fear.
“I’m worried about our teachers, I’m worried about the students,” Talbott said. “I think it’s time for a ban [on assault weapons].”