At South Carroll High School, Wednesday, March 14th, began like any other morning. Students walked to their classrooms, engaged in lessons, and went throughout their day without much fanfare. However, as the minutes began to countdown to 10:00 AM, tension began to rise through the school. Suddenly, students filed into the halls of the school to take part in 17 minutes of protest and remembrance.
Days before the scheduled march, the Carroll County School Board had to make a tough decision. Unlike their peers across the state and nation, students in the seven high schools countywide would not be able to leave their respective school buildings to bring awareness to the issues of gun control and safety in schools. The decision of where and how students would be able to protest fell to the administrators of each school. At South Carroll High School, Principal Diane Cooper, along with several other administrators and high profile students, would make the decision that students would have to protest in one of two places. The students were given the choice to walk out to either the cafeteria or the school testing center. The school administrators then made preparations with staff to deal with the event, including a faculty meeting the day before to ensure the school staff would know how to control the walkout.
As students funnelled through long hallways and down flights of stairs, they congregated in the two designated areas. A larger group of moderate and left-leaning students, numbering about one hundred and fifty, chose the cafeteria as their place of protest. The other walk-out area, the testing center, was occupied by 10 right-leaning students, most of whom didn’t want to be associated with the other students for political reasons. The tension in each room was palpable. For about five minutes, students glanced at each other nervously while teachers paced around the protest rooms.
“When administrative authorities tell us not to speak, it is diminishing our voice, which is the only thing that we have” – Grace Richards
Finally, one student made the decision to defy the rules, wanting to turn the protest into a public show of support for those who died in the Parkland massacre. This student, Nico Lindsay, made the decision to get up from his seat to leave the controlled protest behind. Despite some verbal objection from staff, Nico made the short walk from the cafeteria to a group of benches outside the school without being physically stopped by staff. Once outside and alone, Nico continued his silent protest to support those who died in the Parkland massacre. Meanwhile, inside the cafeteria, the group of students who were left behind erupted with a buzz of activity. This state of chaos continued until another student stood up and attempted to rally everyone to leave the building and follow Nico outside. More 50 students answered this call, choosing to follow Nico outside and continue the protest. Once outside, the students surrounded Nico and he encouraged the students with an impromptu speech.
“I realized once I was outside that I hadn’t shown real courage, because the consequences I knew I would face afterwards were nothing compared to what the mothers and fathers of the Parkland victims had to face while lowering their children into their graves” – Nico Lindsay
Nico spoke with vigour to defend the memories of those who died in Parkland a month ago. He emphasized the message of gun control that many survivors of the Parkland massacre have since suggested. His speech ended in a round of applause, with many of the defiant students praising the message that Nico focused on. The protest ended with a continuation of the moment of silence. Throughout the outside portion of the protest, students were kept out of the school by the automatically locking doors, presenting an extra security threat to the students that staff had not considered. Once 10:17 rolled around, the doors opened and a group of administrators and staff took down names of students who left the school building. Although it was initially believed that students would be given a three day in school suspension, it was later confirmed that students would not be disciplined until the Superintendent Stephen Guthrie and the rest of the school board decided on a punishment. Although the punishment has not been yet been made clear, what is clear is that students will be punished for leaving the building.
“Change needs to happen and we all know that, that’s why we’re all out here. Never again.” – Nico Lindsay
While some students walked out of the cafeteria in favor of gun control, another group a mere hundred feet away were having a much different experience. The testing center was lively with political chatter among the mostly pro-Second Amendment students regarding how the government and students could work together to address gun control. The students were reprimanded by administrative staff and told to remain silent throughout the walkout instead of engaging in discussion. After minutes of heated back and forth between staff and teachers, one staff member verbally told students to return to class in an effort to restore control. This order to return to the classroom followed a remark by a student asking for the Second Amendment to be read aloud. Despite the order, students remained in the testing center until the end of the protest, continuing their discussion and verbal sparring with others.
“I think that the administration was limited by what the Superintendent, Stephen Guthrie, had to say. I think a lot of them [faculty] did want to express their own opinions but they were very limited by the higher-ups.” – Kyle Russo
In each protest areas, there was a significant amount unrest and conflict between students and staff. Nico Lindsay, despite having the threat of punishment held over his head, showed no regret in taking action and walking out. “I remember thinking that I felt like a caged animal,” said Nico afterwards, affirming his defiance of the rules. Other students showed little regret but expressed a strong desire for county officials to have improved communication with students. Most of the students not only showed resentment towards the school administrators but also towards Superintendent of CCPS Stephen Guthrie, who along with the school board, made the decision to keep students inside for their own safety. When Principal Diane Cooper was asked if she felt as if she had done everything to ensure a productive and safe protest, she responded by stating,”Given the parameters that were imposed on us from Carroll County Public Schools, yes.” The school day ended without any more distractions. Many students who had walked out earlier in the day expressed their desire to repeat the action again on April 20th, regardless of whether the schools try to suppress the right to protest again.
“I think its always the better solution, to bring everyone together, hear what everyone is thinking and find common solutions.” – Principal Diane Cooper
Featured Image was taken by the Students of the South Carroll High School Newspaper. Visit them here.