RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Students across Central Virginia participated in a nationwide walkout Wednesday to protest gun violence and demand stricter laws.
The students who participated in the coordinated protests walked out of their respective schools at 10 a.m. and stood outside for 17 minutes — representing one minute for each victim that was killed in last month’s massacre at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The Associated Press estimates roughly 3,000 organized protests took place nationwide, from elementary schools to college campuses. It’s considered the largest display of student activism that has emerged since last month’s massacre.
At Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico County, hundreds of students marched onto the baseball field and, and the top of each minute, read the name of each Parkland shooting victim.
“The turnout was, as you can see, massive,” said senior Maxwell Nardi, who organized the demonstration. “We probably had 500-1,000 students, which just shows how united and how coordinated we are.”
“There are students across the nation that universally agree that changes need to be made, and that’s what we’re fighting for. And we’re not going to stop until people make real changes” — Douglas Freeman Senior Maxwell Nardi
Nardi said he and fellow students will continue to walk out until they see those changes implemented.
“We’re walking out today, we’re walking out April 20, and we’ll continue walking out, and we will continue fighting until changes are finally made,” he added.
While acknowledging the importance of student safety, Henrico County openly supported its students’ wish to express their First Amendment rights and participate in Wednesday’s nationwide demonstration.
But Nardi said he and his classmates had to work for that support.
“The district didn’t come out and support us directly. We had to fight for it,” he said. “We showed up at the school board meeting together, united, and we said, ‘you’re going to support us, or we’re going to keep fighting.’ And for every school board that doesn’t do that, we are taking legal action against them if they try to punish students.
“We’re working with the ACLU, with organizations across the state, because every student’s voice deserves to be heard universally across the nation.”
RPS superintendent ‘proud’ to stand with students
Richmond Public Schools, which ‘applauded’ the activists who organized the planned walkout, also saw a number of students participate.
At Huguenot High School, Superintendent Jason Kamras said he was ‘proud’ to stand with students to not only honor and remember the Parkland victims, but also two of their own who were recently victims of gun violence.
Kamras wasn’t the only superintendent who participated and stood alongside students.
Eric Jones, superintendent for Powhatan County Public Schools, posted a photo outside of Powhatan High School where a large crowd of students joined in honoring the victims of the Parkland tragedy.
A large demonstration also formed in Chesterfield County, where roughly 300 students gathered at Monacan High School, one student wrote to 8News.
“Within it, we had a memorial for the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting, and held a few speeches to bring awareness to the gun issue and remind students to register to vote,” the student explained.
In a letter to families, Chesterfield County Public Schools said it was aware of the planned nationwide demonstrations and that some of their students may choose to participate. Citing safety concerns, however, the school district said any student who violated procedure in leaving school grounds would be given an unexcused absence, though no disciplinary action would be pursued.
Hanover County Public Schools also did not endorse students walking out of the building during school hours. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Michael Gill said that if there was an “unapproved demonstration” the district’s immediate focus would be on safety.
We are committed to helping our students learn about civic engagement and stand ready to help them navigate these issues. As a public school division, we cannot, however, promote one perspective, issue, or cause over another in order to avoid establishing bias or an unintended precedent.”
The superintendent’s open letter did not mention whether or not the school district would seek disciplinary action against any students who participated.
Louisa County, meanwhile, took a unique approach to Wednesday’s demonstration and raising school safety awareness.
Instead of walking out of school, students, staff and administrators gathered inside the school to view a music video that was written, produced and edited by students who make a powerful call for unity.
The video, titled #TeamLCPS Stands Together, has drawn hundreds of comments on the school district’s Facebook page from people praising the students’ unique efforts.
Want more sights and sounds from Wednesday’s nationwide walkout protests? Click here.