Delaware students join National Walkout to protest gun violence

Students walk on to the football field at Dover High School on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Students streamed from Dover High School on Wednesday morning, enduring whipping winds and a 30-degree temperature without complaint.

About 450 classmates gathered at Senator Stadium to join tens of thousands nationwide seeking stricter gun laws they believe will quell violence and demanding their voices be heard.

Two Dover High School students embrace during Dover High Schools Walkout on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Just before the event began at 10:11 a.m., kids chatted and laughed in groups, monitored their cell phones as they typically do when together.

Then senior Nadeem Boggerty took the microphone and asked for 17 seconds of silence to acknowledge the number of lives lost in the mass shooting on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida.

The kids grew quiet and only breezy gusts were heard.

After that, the names of the Parkland victims were read aloud along with short bios and quotes gathered from loved ones about lives cut too short. A soulful version of the tune “Seasons of Love” from the Broadway show “Rent” added to the emotional reception.

Administrators stressed that the 17-minute event was student organized and orchestrated, and saluted their efforts afterward.

“Our student leaders stepped forward and took charge of this as they should and I appreciate them for doing that,” DHS Principal Dr. Courtney Voshell said.

After four weeks of planning and some pre-event uneasiness just beforehand, junior Andrew Honeycutt declared the walkout a success.

“At first I felt a bit nervous because of not being sure how many kids would take part,” he said. “Then it all clicked once they came out, it just felt right, you could feel the energy level.”

In a school of about 1,850 students, perfect attendance wasn’t required. Many kids opted not to take part, and that was OK too.

“It starts with each one of us,” Nadeem said. “If we have only 300 people join the conversation today, then hopefully those 300 talk to another 300 and that 300 talks to another 300 and so on as it keeps growing and growing and growing.”

Nadeem, Andrew, junior Ashley Jones and sophomore Azaria Lewis took turns reading prepared remarks that were clearly written from the heart and with a sage wisdom not commonly associated with their age.

Over 450 students on the football field during Dover High Schools Walkout on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“We’re trying to change the narrative and show that as teens we still have a voice that should be heard,” Ashley said, noting that the thoughts and experiences of future leaders matter quite a bit.

Added Azaria, “It’s amazing how passionate we all are about the same thing. The kids that died at Parkland were also high school students, they were so young just like we are.

“We’re asking ourselves what if it would have been us, or friends or families we knew? Our voices need to be heard so this won’t happen again somewhere else.”

Call to legislators

Since the massacre in Florida, Andrew said he’s been looking at kids and trying to evaluate if they’re at risk of possibly instigating another tragedy.

Near the end, Andrew urged students to reach out to “social outcasts” in their school in a spirit of inclusion and understanding. He said that no matter how much influence administrators have, ultimately, “it’s the students who are responsible for the climate of the school.”

Students urged crowd members to contacted elected officials to make their thoughts known.

“Gun control is the best way to reduce gun deaths without bringing more guns into our schools,” Andrew said.

Dover High School student leaders, from left, Nadeem Boggerty Sr., Ashley Jones, Azaria Lewis and Andrew Honeycutt pause in a 17-second silence during walkout at the football field on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Andrew said he’s in contact with other students statewide regarding the March For Our Lives gathering in Wilmington on March 24.

“The easiest thing we can do is contact our state representatives – people who often live within minutes of us – and asking them to support laws that would support gun violence,” Andrew said.

“We can write letters, call their offices, show up at town halls – just about anything. But whatever we do, we need to make sure that it’s clear that we have an opinion on the topic, and we must be heard.”

At Cape Henlopen High in Lewes, student organizer Jade Shomper read a statement remembering the victims in Florida while looking ahead.

“The seventeen victims had all spent their lives caring for others, surrounded by family and friends who loved them and supported them endlessly,” she said.

“Their lives were cut too short. We do not want these people to be forgotten, and by standing here today, we give them the remembrance they deserve.

“We show our community that, by standing here, we do not want this to continue happening in our world.

“We want to see our generation receiving an education without fear, and for future generations to as well. We are showing that we want change, that we want school safety to be made a priority. No child should be afraid to go to school. Not today, not tomorrow, never again.

“Enough is enough.”

Students Amber Clifton and Billy Miller during Dover High Schools Walkout on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Said Cape Henlopen High Principal Nikki Miller, “When our students asked to take part in the walkout we decided that it was best to support the safety of our students. We worked with local law officials and had an all hands on deck approach.

“We successfully provided our students a safe environment for the national walkout and for students who chose not to participate instruction continued in the classrooms.”

IR schools participate

Some Indian River School District students actively participated in the national school walkout.

Some stood in hallway silence.

Others congregated briefly in the lobby, gymnasium or auditorium of their school.

And several dozen left school buildings.

At Millsboro Middle School, 33 students left the building and 16 students stood in the hallway and lobby.

Meanwhile at Georgetown Middle School, 22 students left the building and went to the football stadium, according to IRSD spokesman David Maull.

Nineteen Selbyville Middle School students participated by going to the gym, however, none went outside.

At Sussex Central High, 28 students left class and were directed to the cafeteria. None left the building. SCHS Principal Dr. Bradley Layfield asked all students throughout the school to observe a 17-second moment of silence.

In Dagsboro, three Indian River High students left the building, one went to the auditorium, and about a dozen stood in the hallway for 17 minutes. In addition, students were permitted to leave class and stand in the hallway for a brief moment of silence that began at about 10:08 a.m. They returned to class at 10:10 a.m., Mr. Maull said.

All of these activities occurred during the 10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m. window, Mr. Maull said.

IRSD Superintendent Mark Steele, in a districtwide message to parents and students last week, said a school walkout would pose a major safety concern and also be disruptive to the day’s educational process.

Mr. Steele said the district would not support this type of walkout protest and the expectation was that students would remain in the building.

In the vein of the importance of engaging in civic and social discussions, Mr. Steele requested that the “secondary principals work with the students and staff in each of their buildings to develop activities within the safety of our buildings that will provide students a way to voice their concerns no matter where they fall in this debate.”

“This will give students a way to express their views and will enable us to keep all of our students safe,” said Mr. Steele in his districtwide message.

‘Meaningful reflection’

No demonstrations occurred outside Milford High Wednesday. The entrances were blocked and only families of students, the media, school district staff and local police officers were allowed entry to parking lot areas.

The media was not allowed inside the school building to witness the indoor safe zone created by the district for the 17-minute event for students who wished “to protest acts of gun violence in schools and neighborhoods, plea for gun reform legislation and honor the 17 Stoneman Douglas victims,” according to Superintendent Dr. Kevin Dickerson.

Regular classroom instruction continued throughout all Milford schools, the administration said.

“We did have students who chose to go to an indoor location, outside of their regular classroom location, on our secondary campus for the 17 minutes,” Dr. Dickerson said.

“Our students responded in an orderly manner. Some students were very sincere in utilizing the time for meaningful reflection.”

Dr. Dickerson described the area outside schools as “quiet and secure.

“We appreciate the cooperation of our students, staff and Milford Police Department. We, first and foremost, focused on maintaining the safety and security of all of our students, staff and families in our schools.

“Secondly, we wanted to continue teaching and learning as normal. We are pleased that this was able to happen and thankful for our students and district-community.”

Sussex Post News Editor Glenn Rolfe and Milford Chronicle News Editor Jenn Antonik contributed to this story.

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