Inspired by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High following the mass shooting at the school Feb. 14, Sarasota students joined a national conversation on how to change the way we handle school security.
At 10 a.m. March 14 at Sarasota High School, students went outside to School Avenue, the street that bisects the campus.
At Booker High School, students filed into the gymnasium.
On both campuses, students broke the ritual of their usual school day for a cause — to show support for the victims of a mass shooting last month at a South Florida high school, and to rally for change in the way school safety and security is handled.
Sarasota County high schoolers joined students across the nation in walkouts a month after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 dead and another 17 injured. The massacre prompted a wave of activism from students who pushed lawmakers in the state to change the way gun violence is treated.
Locally, the events were student-organized and student-led, and each looked a little different.
At Booker High School, students filed into the gymnasium for speeches from students, a song from the choir and the unveiling of a pact:
“We the students of Booker High School pledge that if we see something, we say something, in honor of all affected by the events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the fervent desire to support school safety and security,” a banner read.
During lunch periods, students signed the pledge, and 17 dove-shaped balloons were released — one for each of the dead Parkland victims.
Junior Jair Esquibel called the service at Booker High “wonderful.”
“It was way better than walking out because we got informed,” he said.
At Sarasota High School, an estimated 1,000 students gathered on School Avenue, many of whom held signs that honored Parkland victims with whom they felt a connection. They chanted “Gun reform! Gun reform!” and “Close School Avenue!”
The students wore burgundy, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High’s color, in a show of solidarity.
“To be safe, to be protected in our place of learning — I feel like that’s a God-given right!” said Shawn Cacciola, to cheers from his classmates. “We shouldn’t have to fight for it. We shouldn’t have to be here today, but we are. All we need is positive energy and a good direction.”
Earlier in the day, Riverview High students walked to the back of campus at 7:45 a.m. for 17 minutes of silence. For every minute that passed, they read out loud the name of one victim. Then, students marched around the track twice, chanting as they went: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, gun violence has got to go!” and “People united will never be divided!”
Students delivered speeches, and then those in attendance were invited to register to vote, donate money or help create a video. And now, the student organizers at Riverview plan to organize another event in April that brings adults in the area into the conversation as well, and focuses on what the Sarasota area can do specifically.
“We aren’t slowing down, we’re not stopping,” said Riverview senior Anton Kernohan. “We’re still fighting for what we believe in, and we’re not going to stop until something changes.”
Some elementary schools in the district held moments of silence for the Parkland victims. Some middle schools held “write-ins,” where they wrote to their representatives to ask for change.
Administrators across the district were supportive. Superintendent Todd Bowden, who attended Booker High’s event, said the day’s demonstrations were a healthy outlet for students.
“It’s incredibly important for the students to experience firsthand how powerful their voices can be,” said Sarasota High School Principal David Jones. “And I really think they’re going to effectuate change.”
On March 22, district officials will meet to decide what types of changes they want to make, or new programs they want to implement, to increase school safety and security.