School Shooting Sparks Activism

Weighing in on the gun reform, school safety debate

Shelly Norden
The flags fly at half-staff in honor of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, Feb. 14.

All three Fauquier County high schools are organizing protests in response to the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.

The protests, both part of a national movement, are planned for March 14 and April 20. Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is calling for the March 14 protest. The group wants students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to take part in a #NationalSchoolWalkout for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. across every time zone. According to a statement on the group’s website, the walkout is “to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.” Members of the group hope the walkout will make Congress pass legislation to keep people safe from gun violence in schools, on streets, in homes and in places of worship.

The April 20 walkout is being called for by Connecticut student Lane Murdock. Murdock lives just 20 minutes away from Sandy Hook Elementary School and chose the April 20 date because it’s the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings.

“We want this day to be a visual and vocal representation of the teen population’s desire to speak,” Murdock said. “At the end of the day, we’re the ones who are being hurt in our schools.”

Senior Sara Massei is coordinating the protests at Kettle Run.

“Specifics are yet to be decided but students will be allowed to participate or not,” Massei said. “No one will be penalized for either. We’d love to hear any ideas, suggestions, comments or concerns people have.”

A meeting will be held with the school appointed representatives from each of the three high schools to solidify all dates and details of the event. Teens feel it’s important to have their voices heard. Hours after 17 people were killed in the Florida shooting, teens took to Twitter to voice their thoughts on how something so tragic could happen.

“The most recent school shooting absolutely horrified me,” senior Maura Kate O’Hara said. “Seventeen people died while trying to get an education, and I could have been one of them because I used to live in Broward County, Florida. When you’re able to put yourself in the victims’ shoes, the whole situation becomes a lot more real.”

Massei believes tougher gun laws need to be put in place to prevent something like this from happening again. “To all of you people using the ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ phrase you’re right,” Massei tweeted. “A gun can’t kill a person alone. But the person who’s doing the killing can do it [much more easily] with a gun. I am by no means suggesting we ban all guns, but we need reform now.”

Senior Andrew Pickett thinks mental health is the bigger problem.

“Be as strict as you want to be on the background checks,” Pickett tweeted. “It’s needed! But mental health must be checked first and foremost. There is no way we can ‘ban’ guns though. There are way too many responsible citizens using them strictly to protect themselves and their families.”

Senior Chance Morrison tweeted that banning items does not fix the problem.

“Since when has making stuff illegal in America made people stop?” Morrison tweeted.

The Florida school shooting has made students question their own safety in school. A recent Twitter poll concluded that 40 percent of Kettle Run students do not feel safe in school.

Senior Eliana Castro said that installing metal detectors would help her feel safer in school.

“Anyone could put a knife or a gun in their backpack and no one would know about it,” Castro said. “I’d rather have [staff members] just look through my backpack than risk my safety. If you don’t have anything in your backpack, it wouldn’t take that long [for staff to check your bag]. As the years go by it’s just going to get worse, so I think it’s worth it. If we don’t do anything about it now then we’re just risking the lives of kids.”

“Make it more difficult to get into the school,” senior Hannah Cordova said. “It’s so easy to just buzz in and go inside without much questioning or signing in.”

The results of another recent Twitter poll concluded that 47 percent of Kettle Run students feel that having metal detectors would make them feel safer at school. However, Bo Pittman, special education teacher, feels metal detectors are not the answer.

“It’s going to happen whether there are metal detectors or not,” Pittman said.

For those students who do not feel safe, Jeff Tindle, resource officer, has some advice.

“If a student doesn’t feel safe, I would encourage them to seek out either myself or one of the administrators so that we can tell and show them all that we do to keep them as safe as we can,” Tindle said. “If something doesn’t seem right, let an adult know immediately. We have a number of security measures in place, but if the kids don’t abide by them it’s pointless. Like propping outside doors or letting people in from the outside. Even if they know the person, the should never let someone in from the outside.”

As part of Fauquier County Public Schools’ efforts to maintain safe schools, a confidential and anonymous form is available on every school’s website. Anyone can anonymously report information by utilizing the Tip Information comment field. This form can be found under the parents and students section of the Kettle Run website and can be used to report any information about drugs, weapons, or other factors which may be harmful to the school environment. The county also announced that it will be adding a security specialist to all three county high schools. Those hired to fill these positions will receive at least $15.71 per hour and will be required to monitor buildings and social media, and investigate incidents, among other duties.

“In the end, it’s a team effort,” Tindle said. “There’s only a handful of administrators and just one me, but 1,200 sets of eyes can see a lot and we need them to let us know what they are seeing.”

In addition to the anonymous tip-line on the school website, students can also contact the Fauquier County Sheriff’s office non-emergency phone number at 540-347- 3300 or fill out an anonymous tip form at fauquiercounty. gov. “If you see something, say something,” one faculty member said. “It’s better to be overly safe than sorry.”