Elementary and middle school students from Morris Jeff Community School spilled out onto green space outside the building at 10 a.m. March 14, joining a nationwide student walkout protesting gun violence in the wake of the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Hundreds of students joined the walkout in New Orleans, from The Net and Benjamin Franklin in Gentilly and George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy in Desire to Lusher Charter School and its neighboring New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School in Uptown.
Students from Lusher and Sci High linked arms around the block and held signs demanding congressional action on gun control, or wore the names of victims of school shootings. The national Gun Violence Archive counts 239 school shootings since the murders of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. There have been more than 400 victims of school shootings since then - 138 people were killed.
Under a banner of “Enough,” thousands of students around the U.S. held a 17-minute-long walkout, each minute representing a person killed in Parkland. Loosely organized under the umbrella of the Women’s March Youth Empower coalition, each walkout was led and coordinated by students at each school, a display of the growing collective power among young people mobilizing to have their voices’ heard.
[jump] [content-1] New Orleans students were largely able to demonstrate without incident, though many schools held memorials or other services to discourage on-campus protests. Catholic schools under the Archdiocese of New Orleans held prayer sessions.
At least one school told parents that students participating in the walkout could face up to five days of suspension.
In a letter sent to superintendents of Louisiana schools, the ACLU of Louisiana’s interim executive director Jane Johnson wrote that “rather than focus on discipline, schools should regard National School Walkout day as an opportunity for a practical lesson in participatory democracy.”
“We hope that Louisiana school districts foster your students’ civic participation and responsibility on National School Walkout day, and help to ensure the health of our democracy in decades to come,” Johnson wrote.
Rhonda Dale, principal of New Orleans East’s Abramson Sci Academy, wrote in a letter to students’ families that the school is “proud that our students are passionate about advocating for their beliefs. They have a powerful voice that can affect change, and it is our role as educators to support them as they learn to strengthen their communities.”
Lusher wrote to students’ families noting that “this demonstration is entirely student led and student organized. Our role as a school has been one of a partner, to ensure that our students are both supported and safe.”
The walkout was a prelude to the nationwide March for Our Lives on March 24, where thousands of young people are expected to join a movement from Parkland students calling on stronger gun control and an end to gun violence. New Orleans organizers plan a rally and march at noon beginning at Washington Square Park through the French Quarter and to City Hall.
“We have seen enough senseless gun violence; we have lived in fear too long,” said a message on the March for Our Lives website. “We have buried too many heroes. We demand better.”
The message also criticized the National Rifle Association, whose supporters “will blame us for being naive and entitled when the only thing we seek is to feel safe.”
“Let's work together to secure our schools and stop school violence,” the NRA wrote on Twitter as walkouts began this morning. “We protect our banks, our sports stadiums and our government buildings better than we protect our schools. That must change.”
Shortly after the walkouts, the NRA account posted a photo of an AR-15 - the weapon Nicolas Cruz used to kill 17 people in Parkland and Adam Lanza used to kill 26 people in Newtown - with the message, “I’ll control my own guns, thank you.”
Several Louisiana legislators have filed measures to prevent the sales of those so-called assault-style weapons or weapons with high-capacity magazines, or limit their sales to people at least 21 years old.
But several lawmakers are proposing arming teachers on campus.
State Sen. John Milkovich’s “Safe Schools Act” proposes that schools can appoint “school personnel or private individuals who may possess firearms on the school grounds to protect students or other persons.” It also proposed that schools can remove a student when a school employee believes “a student's behavior poses a significant threat to the safety of another person on school grounds.”
State Sen. Mike Walsworth also proposes allowing students to wear “bulletproof backpacks.” His Senate Bill 178 aims to lift restrictions on wearing body armor on school properties and gun-free zones so students can “carry, wear, or possess bullet-resistant backpacks on school property or a school bus.”
Meanwhile, New Orleans police and the Orleans Parish School Board are working on a cooperative endeavor agreement to update security and active shooter plans with direct-run and charter network schools. Earlier this week, the New Orleans Police Department held a live shooter drill on the campus of McDonogh 35 High School.
The school board will likely approve the plan at its March 22 meeting.
“When I think of those families and students in Florida and elsewhere my heart breaks,” school board Vice President Leslie Ellison said in a statement. “We must do all that we can to ensure our little ones remain safe in school and able to learn in a caring and welcoming environment.”