Thousands of Loudoun County students walked out of class today for a 17-minute protest in honor of the 17 teachers and students who were killed in the Florida shooting one month ago today.
Students at almost every public middle school and high school in the county took part in the walk out, joining a national walkout that millions of students took part in as a visible plea to Congress to pass tighter gun control measures.
The largest walkout in Loudoun took place at Freedom High School, with 603 participants. The second-largest was at Park View High School with 400.
The largest middle school demonstration was at Seneca Ridge Middle School in Sterling, where about 180 students walked out. They carried orange signs with messages such as “Arms are for hugging,” “#enough,” and “We are not targets.” Eighth-graders Jacob Wesoky and Lane Thimmesch, who planned the school’s protest, read the names of the 17 victims of the Parkland, FL, shooting.
Lane told her classmates who huddled just outside of the school at 10 a.m. today, “As teenagers we are often told we should leave the tough conversations to the adults … But I stand here today with so many others to say … We are young. We are determined. We are passionate. We are the future. And we are change.”
Seneca Ridge’s protest was the idea of 13-year-old Jacob Wesoky, who was so moved the night of the Parkland, FL, shootings that he wrote a seven-page letter to President Donald J. Trump urging him to ban military-style firearms.
He said the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students described the Feb. 14 shooting as if it were a war zone. “Since when are our schools’ environments comparable to a war zone?” Jacob said. “Enough is enough.”
There’s no reason a person should have access to a military-style firearm, like the AR-15 that investigators say was used in the shooting, he said. “Their only purpose is to hunt people.”
Jacob’s parents describe their 13-year-old son as a rules follower. “So in some ways the protest is out of character for him, but the way he did it is definitely him,” his father, Jonathan Wesoky, said.
Jacob worked closely with Seneca Ridge Principal Nick Cottone to coordinate the details of the walk out, meeting every day to coordinate logistics. The two work together every day to put together the morning announcements, so they knew each other well before today’s protest.
“Mr. Cottone can’t say his feelings about the issue, but he’s worked with us to make sure we can still express our opinion and stay safe while doing it,” Jacob said. “He’s been very supportive.”
Most students who took part in the walkout will still face consequences, which varies by school. For most, the students will be asked to either stay after school for 30 minutes or use part of their lunch break to serve detention.
Two of the largest events, at Park View and Freedom high schools, bore no consequences for students. At Park View, the walkout was done during an advisory period and no instruction was disrupted. At Freedom, students walked around the track during their lunch period.
Superintendent Eric Williams directed school principals to give their students opportunities to express their opinions without disrupting learning. He said students have the freedom to walk out as an expression of their opinion, but do not have the right to disrupt instruction or create an unsafe environment.
“The consequences are minor and treated like a tardy. No one is losing their scholarship to Harvard over this,” said Wayde Byard, the school system’s public information officer.
At Seneca Ridge, students who participated in the protest are asked to gather for a 30-minute, after-school detention that Cottone called “after-school learning ownership time.” In a letter home to parents, Cottone said he and teachers will lead a discussion about civic engagement.
Some schools held panels on school security, wrote letters to elected officials and conducted social media outreach efforts to students at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“We’re treating this as a lesson in civics. … There’s a history of civil disobedience in this nation so this is an opportunity to talk about that,” Byard said, noting Rosa Parks and others. “It’s a learning opportunity.”
During last night’s School Board meeting, Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) encouraged parents to give their children outlets to express their opinion without losing class time, like taking them to the March for Our Lives gun control rally on the National Mall March 24.
“There’s a great opportunity. It doesn’t incorporate any school time, and I would encourage those who want to stay active in that discussion to take that opportunity.”