Alpine students march against gun violence in schools
ALPINE – “We’re anti-school shooting, not anti-Second Amendment,” Alpine student walkout organizer Malik Aguilar told the Big Bend Sentinel at Friday’s walkout. “We’re advocates for students who want to go to school, do their studies, and not get shot.”
Fourteen Alpine High School and four Alpine Montessori School students engaged in the National School Walkout Day on Friday to protest gun violence in schools, despite - what the students claimed incorrectly - threats from school officials to punish them with a higher severity than usual.
The walkout was held on April 20th to commemorate the Columbine school shooting massacre in Colorado.
“Columbine was a starting point for all these shootings,” said walkout co-organizer Naomi Gjemme, who registered to vote during the walkout. “They were the first to have used all kinds of guns and bombs. There’s a sick sort of fan club for them out there.”
School administrators, Aguilar claimed, had told the students that they would receive three days of disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) for participating in the walkout for “disrupting the school day.”
“We’re not disrupting anything. We’re just walking out silently and having a peaceful protest,” he said.
Walkout co-organizers Jonah Adams and Rose Hillery also told the Sentinel that coaches had threatened students with being pulled out of sporting events and teachers had told students the walkout would affect their National Honor Society standings as well as future employment. The alleged threats, she said, impacted the turnout at the walkout. “I had a coach tell me I wouldn’t be able to compete in sports and that future employers wouldn’t hire us. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I talked to some of my classmates to see if they were coming out, but a lot of them were scared and said they didn’t want to get in trouble.” Word of such disciplinary measures, Alpine ISD Superintendent Becky Watley said, were premature, with disciplinary actions to be determined following the event. “As with any student who leaves campus without permission or has an unexcused absence, discipline will be in accordance with our student code of conduct and our district policies,” she wrote in an e-mail to the Sentinel, adding that the school will continue to work to keep campuses safe. “The walkout today is not a school-sponsored event. However, I do not know one single person who does not want safer schools. School safety is and will continue to be a priority for Alpine ISD.” For Aguilar, the decision to participate in the national walkout came from his personal experience with school violence after the September 2016 shooting in Alpine, which left one AHS student wounded and the student shooter dead by a self-inflicted gunshot. “We decided to be part of the National Walkout Day since we had our own school shooting,” he said, recalling the event. “That day, no one expected anything. It was a normal day – maybe too normal – until our teacher said we were in lockdown and it was not a drill. We heard gunshots. It didn’t feel real. And now, I feel like the school isn’t backing us at all.” The shooting, AHS walkout co-organizers Jonah Adams added, has not been acknowledged by the school. “When the anniversary passed, there was no remembrance of what happened. They seem to want to forget about it,” he said. “We all went through that as a school. They should be advocates for change.” The students also spoke out against the prospect of arming teachers. “Having teachers with guns just means more guns in our schools,” Hillery said. “The thought of that absolutely doesn’t make me feel safer.” Dee Perkins, the parent of an Alpine High School student participating in the walkout, was among the protesters, which included other parents, local attorneys, and various supporters. “These students are the ones that employers or colleges should be seeking. These kids are the future leaders. They are articulate and smart. They stand up for what they believe in and are willing to suffer the consequences of it. I know few adults who are that brave,” Perkins said of the marchers. “I am here to support the kids who have had enough and are brave enough to take the punishments the school wants to hand out.” After the 10am meeting and speeches from several students at the Kokernot Park gazebo, students marched along Fifth Street to Railroad Park, where they picketed against gun violence to traffic that mostly honked in support of their cause. One vehicle, however, passed at least twice, with the passenger filming the protesting teenagers as the driver screamed at the students. The driver’s words, however, couldn’t be comprehended due to the roar of his pickup’s engine and the high winds that kicked up dust and blew the protestor’s signs. The driver from another passing pickup truck threw garbage at the protesters, striking Adams. “I just saw something brown fly at me and thought it was a piece of dry animal poop,” he said with a chuckle. A third pick-up truck opposed to the protesters drove his dually close to the sidewalk curb and revved his engine, covering the area for a moment in a thin, black plume of exhaust. “Hey man! Save the environment,” Adams – the obvious jokester of the group yelled at the truck. “Oh wait, that’s next week’s protest.” While the students were marching, they also learned of yet another school shooting in Florida, in which one student was wounded. “I can imagine that something like this would happen today,” said student Naomi Gjemme, who also helped organize the march. “It’s so sad. Copycat shooting s are a huge thing. It’s really scary because it’s going to happen more and more as long as our elected officials keep doing nothing about it.” The Friday Florida shooting, Aguilar added, underlines the reasons for their protestSome. “ people keep questing why we’re doing this. We’re here to address gun violence,” he said. “Of course a school shooting happened on the day we do this. That’s why we’re here. That’s what we’re trying to get away from.”