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One Dover student takes a stand for all during walkout
Dover Area High School junior Ethan Snyder protests gun violence and supports human rights on the square in Dover Friday, April 20, 2018. He will face a one-day suspension for his actions.
Ethan Snyder was afraid to walk out of school, because he knew he would get in trouble.
"Walking out is not my kind of thing," he said. "I'm a good student."
A National Honor Society student, Snyder said he cares about getting into college, but he cares about his life, too. And he knew walking out to stand up against gun violence was worth the risk.
"You're not going to get into college if you're shot," he said.
Walking out: When Snyder, a junior at Dover Area High School, walked out Friday, April 20 — in line with a national movement to protest gun violence in schools — a school administrator stopped him at the exit, saying, "Are you aware that you're not coming back?"
"Yes," he replied. Snyder knew he would not be allowed back in school that day and that he would be given one day of in-school suspension for leaving, as stated in the school's handbook.
Principal Jared Wastler has been accepting of student efforts, Snyder said, so he knew he would not go beyond school policy with discipline.
"That is their absolute right to do that," said Brad Perkins, director of communications for the school district, on students walking out.
Snyder joined in a national movement in which students chose to walk out of school in response to recent gun violence, such as the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and teachers.
The first walkout was on the one-month anniversary. Students from schools across the country organized again Friday, April 20, to commemorate the victims of the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, on the same day in 1999.
No debate: Snyder walked a block from the school to the Dover square about 10:30 a.m., standing at the corner of West Canal and North Main streets.
He held a sign that read:
"Things I want to debate
- Fiscal policy
- Minimum wage
- Foreign affairs
"Things I don't want to debate
- My identity
- My rights
- MY LIFE"
He explained that topics such as fiscal policy and minimum wage invite debate, since everyone has the right to their own opinions and there's no right or wrong answer.
But when it comes to issues of identity, rights and someone's life, there should be no debate.
Those who identify as LGBT, women of color and Muslims, for example, have fought a lot to get where they are now, he said.
And he doesn't want to gamble with his own life and the lives of other students.
Changes need to be made to make schools safer without leaving students feeling like they're trapped in a prison with increasing security, he continued.
Law enforcement: However, Snyder recognized the support he's received from local law enforcement.
Perkins said that since the walkout started on school property, the district sent Northern York County Regional Police for Snyder's safety and also reached out to his family to keep them in the loop.
Officer Mark Allen — who is also the school's resource officer — stopped by to check on him, saying he'd send an officer or two throughout the day to make sure he was safe.
Allen also asked to take a photo of Snyder's sign for posterity.
Allen had pulled him out of gym class earlier in the week to tell him he wasn't in trouble for choosing to protest.
He informed him of his legal rights and policies in place — he could not stop traffic and would be responsible for anyone who joined him.
Student support: Snyder was the only student from his school who decided to walk out.
He was expecting a few to join him, but when it came to the day, they either didn't answer his messages or said no, he said.
But he thinks the lack of turnout might have more to do with school discipline than support, given how much support he received during the last walkout.
Snyder helped organize the March 14 walkouts with the cooperation of the school, which allowed 70 students to gather in the auditorium to hear his speech, which had to be approved by the school ahead of time.
Wastler told Snyder his speech was too political, but he gave it anyway.
"If politics is what you need to solve a problem, politics is what you're going to get," he said.
Snyder spoke about legislative changes, such as banning bump stocks and accessories that create automatic weapons — which he argued are not necessary for hunting or self-protection but are often used in mass shootings.
He also supports universal background checks and a mental health assessment to make sure guns are kept out of the hands of those who might be likely to initiate a shooting.
The response he got from students was overwhelmingly positive, he said.
Though support of gun laws tends to lean more Democratic, he said, after reading social media posts about the topic and researching further online, he found that 70 percent of people want stricter gun laws — and not all of them are Democrats.
All day: Snyder stood at the corner for the duration of the school day — and about 10 minutes more to catch students leaving in school buses.
He hopes seeing him with his sign made people think, and more importantly, will make them vote.
"Since I'm 16, I don't have the right to vote," he said, so it's up to those who have the ability to take control.
He received mixed responses from passers-by throughout the day, he said.
Many approved of his efforts, honking their horns and giving a thumbs-up or a head nod — with one person coming up to talk to him in support.
Another person told him he'd call to have him removed, but nothing came of it. And he did get a few thumbs-downs — and one middle finger.
Next steps: Snyder knows he wants to continue taking action because in order for change to happen, people need to continue to fight for it.
The next steps for the walkout movement involve strategy. The National School Walkout website marks May 19 as a date for schools to host meetings discussing the impact of gun violence in their communities and plan what's next for the student-led movement.
Snyder said though he's studying actuarial science, he hopes to join organizations for political change in the future.
"I feel like I can," he said. "I'm not afraid."