Students around York County participate in national walkout

Junior Gonzalez
York Dispatch
Senior Marcelina Brown, 18, joins about 200 fellow William Penn High School students as they take part in a nationwide walkout to protest gun violence, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. The students walked across Princess Street to Penn Park where they gathered to hear the names of the 17 students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. John A. Pavoncello

Students in schools across York County and at thousands of other schools nationwide walked out of their classrooms Wednesday, March 14, in solidarity with students in Parkland, Florida, who saw their classmates slain a month ago.

The symbolic event saw hundreds of students leave their classrooms in schools across York County, though their destinations varied.

Some students walked out of class but stayed indoors as mandated by several school districts, while other students walked out of buildings and stood peacefully for 17 minutes.

At Helen Thackston Charter School, students worked with administrators to hold the event and mutually decided to hold the walkout indoors because of cold weather, according to Thackston senior Tiffany Beisel.

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She said plans for the walkout started almost instantly after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 students and teachers.

"When we saw what happened in Parkland and all the other school shootings, we knew something had to be done," Beisel said.

Around the county: Hundreds of students at William Penn Senior High School walked out and poured across the street into Penn Park, where they met with district police, school board members, city council members and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich.

William Penn senior Rameka Price, 18, said she decided to walk out to raise awareness on the issue of gun violence, both in and outside of the school.

“It shouldn’t just be times like this (after a shooting) where everybody decides to do something about it,” she said.

The presence of local leaders at Penn Park was encouraging for Price.

“It made me feel like they’re by our side,” she said.

The demonstration — while powerful — was brief, and students returned to class at the conclusion of the 17 minutes — one minute for each of the 17 victims killed last month — allotted for the demonstration.

At Central York High School, students walked out of the building and formed a circle around the school's panther statue, standing there for about 15 minutes while some of the students spoke. School security kept journalists off school grounds and Springettsbury Township Police were present.

In a letter sent to parents, Central York schools Superintendent Michael Snell said between 300 and 350 participated in the high school's outdoor demonstration while another 40 students chose to mark the moment in the high school cafeteria.

At Central York Middle School, about 400 students took part in the walkout, though students remained indoors and walked over to the school's cafeteria.

Even a few elementary school students at the district took a stand. Six students at North Hills Elementary School and two students at Sinking Springs Elementary School participated in activities with their respective school principals during the walkout period.

When asked about restrictions on media access, Central York spokeswoman Julie Randall Romig stated, "When we have an event like today's, where there are potential safety or security concerns and students are outside of the building, we routinely ask media to stay off campus, which is what we did today."

More:Florida prosecutors seeking death penalty in school shooting

Helen Thackston Charter School Principal Melissa Achuff reviews student reponses to a poster created during the National Student Walkout on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.

Thackston: At 10 a.m., students at Thackston got up from their tables and went to blank posters on the perimeter of the school's gymnasium to write responses to a multitude of questions, including "What makes school safe?" and "What do students need?" 

After the walkout, the posters were taken from the gym and posted on doors at the school's administrative offices.

On existing posters around the school memorializing the Parkland shooting, responses included statements such as "no bullying," "metal detectors" and "no more guns."

"I feel like at this point, no school is safe," Beisel said. "It's a shame that no student can feel safe in their own school."

Fellow Thackston senior Natasha Rodriguez said that although her school's campus in York City is in "a known area for violence," the school's counselors, social workers and teachers have kept a safe school environment.

English Language Arts teacher Tracy Reasner was one several Thackston teachers who followed students to the school's gymnasium.

A poster in the halls of Helen Thackston Charter School have student responses to the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida school shooting. Responses include "No more guns!" and "No bullying."

She said she's been talking with students about empowering themselves to speak up for their beliefs.

"In this time in history, the world is listening to teenagers," Reasner said, "and if anything is going to change regarding our gun laws (and) our safety in schools, now is the time for our students to speak."

Reasner noted that a protest Thackston students staged last year demanding answers on the prolonged absence of former principal Denise Butts.

"Our students definitely are not shy about when they're concerned about something ... they stand up."

Students at Central York High School formed a circle around the school's flagpole during a nationwide walkout Wednesday, March 14. Christopher Dornblaser photo.