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Students walk toward empowerment

Sidney Koziarz, Business Manager

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Feb. 14 was a day that made a mark on American history. From that day on, students all across America began speaking their minds about gun control. It was the day that Nikolas Cruz, 19, took the lives of 17 innocent people at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida. Students across the country are utilizing social media to band together, calling for students and teachers alike to participate in one, or many, walkouts in the last months of the school year.
Last Wednesday, March 14, at 10 a.m. there was a 17-minute, widely-publicized nationwide school walkout that allowed students to show their common concern for the lives lost in Florida and to demonstrate their solidarity regarding the demand for greater gun control. Accordingly, Laguna Beach administration adjusted the high school students’ break schedule not only to allow students 17 minutes to express their feelings and concerns pertaining to gun violence, but also to minimize disruption to their academic day.
“We are not facilitating one message or belief over another; rather, we are creating a safe space for all students during a time when they may wish to explore and exercise their right to free speech through a student-initiated event. We would like all students to remain on campus and not miss their educational day. Those who choose to leave campus or not return to class after the break are subject to a period truancy,” said superintendent Dr. Jason Viloria. “LBUSD respects students’ First Amendment right, under federal and state law, to freedom of speech in the school environment. The March 14 event is entirely student-driven and voluntary. It is not sponsored by LBUSD or our schools.”
Due to California State Legislature, the school must remain non-partisan, meaning school administration and faculty cannot outwardly protest or claim a political belief. Instead of turning a blind eye to students walking off campus and giving them a truancy, the school arranged to have four boards on display, each accompanied by pens, post-it notes and a student counselor. Counselor Angela Pilon supervised a poster concerning school safety, student support specialist Alex Aronson oversaw a poster about a sense of belongingness and acceptance, counselor Jeanne Brown stood post near a poster about remembrance of victims and families, and counselor Nichole Rosa accompanied the social responsibilities poster board.
“We wanted to take time to have meaningful conversations and provide support to students who felt compelled to express their opinion on gun control and safety and well-being at schools. We are here to support and listen to concerns and to talk through them. We take that time to reflect and honor the victims of most recent tragedies but also to provide dialogue and clarity as young adults aim to make a difference and express themselves,” said principal Dr. Jason Allemann.
Despite the school’s positive intentions, some students felt like the structure of the event denied an opportunity to protest and find empowerment through a solidarity movement. To them, the consequences for not coming to school or leaving campus were miniscule compared to the bigger picture: to honor the lives lost by protesting gun laws and participating in the nationwide solidarity.
“Although the school did attempt to help the issue,” acknowledged senior Natalia Szeibert, “it would have been better if the school was more hands-off. This is a touchy subject. Let students express their freedom of speech. I, along with many other students, when administration adjusted our break schedules, perceived it as just an extended snack break rather than a moment of compassion.”
Some of the high school students who didn’t show up to school, or who left after break last Wednesday, indicated that they didn’t show up because they were either scared of the possibility of a shooting at their own school, or were frustrated because of the adjusted schedule.
“I am in ASB. We have been talking about this walk out for quite a long time now because we have been trying to debate and to figure out a proper plan for the students. And though I understand that the school can’t protest or say a certain political belief, because that is against our California State Legislature, they can at least give us something that we feel like we are actually making a difference, rather than putting us in the quad to make sure that we don’t do anything irrational,” said a junior Chloe Bryan.
Less than a week after the shooting in Florida, survivors of the shooting mobilized and launched the #NeverAgain movement, as well as the March for Our Lives, a nationwide event protesting gun violence scheduled for this Saturday, March 24. March for Our Lives gives Laguna Beach’s student body another chance to be vocal and feel empowered. The March’s Mission Statement acknowledges the fact that not only are just the students dying, but teachers and administrations are risking their lives as well to save their students.
“This isn’t a student versus administration. We are on the same team,” reminded assistant principal Mr. Robert Billinger.
For many students, March 14 and March 24 represent the first opportunities for them to be able to express their political opinions vocally, proving once and for all that the youth can make a difference. All around the country, the youth have shown that they are a force to be reckoned with—sending a threat to lawmakers: If you don’t make the change that we want, when we turn 18, we will vote you out.

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Students walk toward empowerment