Thousands of students across the country turned out for the National School Walkout on April 20, calling for gun-safety measures like universal background checks that would help protect them at school. While it's perfectly legal for kids to exercise their first amendment rights at school, administrators do have a right to discipline them for being absent from class.
On the day of the walkout, some school districts were more supportive of the young activists than others. In some schools, just a few students walked out — at times, just one brave soul. Lindsay Henning, an 18-year-old senior at North Penn High School in Lansdale, PA, a large suburban school just north of Philadelphia, was one of three students to walk out last Friday. Her tweets got supportive responses from all over the country, as many students found themselves in the same situation. This is her experience, as told to Natalie Gontcharova.
It was in a group chat a little while back where Dakota Drake, one of the two girls who protested with me, mentioned the walkout. I was exuberant and said, “Sure, I’ll do it!” but wasn’t sure of the seriousness of the situation. I had gone downtown to Philly and joined the March for Our Lives a month ago and had also gone to other protests like the Women’s March, so this wasn’t a new thing for me.
It was at 6:56 a.m. on the day of the walkout that I got a follow-up text from Dakota saying, “Will you really do the walkout with me?” Being me, I was definitely up for it. Dakota, Brittany Crosson (the third girl), and I met in the art room that morning. Our signs were made, and we all had emailed today’s teachers, letting them know that we were not going to be in class. Some people had asked what we were doing and they told us that they might join us, but as far as we knew it was only going to be us three.
This is a nationwide protest that is blasted out on social media, which sits at the fingertips of all 3,000 kids that go to our school, so we thought maybe a few others had made arrangements like we did. At this point, the reality was that the school was going to treat it like we were cutting class. All of us respected that and were ready to face our consequences even though it was so close to both prom and graduation.
When 10 a.m. rolled around, it was time to leave. Thankfully, my teacher had no comment on the subject. But Dakota’s teacher started threatening her that she was going to write her up and said to make sure the administration knows if she leaves class. Nonetheless, we picked up our signs and headed to the front of the building. Security warned us that they would not be permitted to let us back in once we walk out those doors, but that did not scare us. Later, the security guard told us our principal said we can go back in and use the bathroom or go to class if we wanted to. I’m pretty sure it’s because they realised that we weren’t disrupting anything and we were respectful.
And so, we took a seat on the bottom step of our school’s front entrance and sat there until the end of the school day. The first half hour was brutal and we all thought, "How are we going to sit here for another four hours?" But by the end of it, we were all kind of surprised by how time flew. One of the teachers even ordered pizza for us. It was most definitely worth it.
Each of us had our own drive to sit there in the cold that day, and we happily explained it to the many people who asked what we were doing. Dakota said to me, “A lot of people commented on how brave we are, but I don’t really see it as being brave. It’s taking a stand for what we believe in.” This wasn’t something I was shaking from the nerves of doing, and it definitely didn’t feel like I needed much outstanding courage to do so because it was what felt right in my soul. At times, especially when someone I knew to be more popular than me or someone I thought was cute walked past, I felt a small amount of anxiety, but then I remembered instantly that they are the ones not out here fighting for what they believe in and my confidence rose up again.
Brittany said, “I was thinking I’d be the only one out there. I was still determined to go.” I know many people may say that we only did this to get out of class, but that was not it at all. In fact, we all had our books out at some point, doing something or catching up on something that we missed.
We live in a small suburban town outside of Philadelphia, but our school district is pretty large. There are about 1,020 kids in our graduating class and our area is not very conservative; it's actually pretty moderate. We had a much larger walkout on March 14, where most of the school participated while we stood for 17 minutes of silence for the 17 victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. That had been approved and organised very nicely, and much more professionally, but, as Brittany said, “We organised [this one] amongst ourselves and not the teachers, [so] it didn’t get [as much] publicity.”
It is also the end of April, which means prom and graduation are right around the corner, and I know a lot of kids don’t want to have to miss one of those because of an unexcused absence, or they’re keeping their record sharp for colleges. I respect that, especially since in the beginning it was pretty much set in stone that we were going to get detentions or some other consequences for walking out. Many kids are very codependent on what their friends are doing in situations like this one, and I can’t say that if it was just me going out there that I would have done it.
A lot of people commented on how brave we are, but I don’t really see it as being brave. It’s taking a stand for what we believe in.
At this time in our lives, politics are put on the back burner because we are getting ready to start a whole new life that we haven’t experienced before, but to me, and I know for the other two girls, this is a situation that is going to affect our adult lives and we wanted to take as much action as we could.
I have felt an incredible amount of support from the staff and teachers. I know it is not only our lives that are vulnerable in these situations, it is theirs, too, and I understand that they are not permitted to leave and join us because their jobs and careers may be at risk. I also didn’t hear anything negative from the students; most of them were very supportive and stopped to talk or read our signs on the way in and out.
I feel that there needs to be more gun control in this country. I'm not saying we should ban all guns and take them away from everyone, but we need to get a grip on it because it is getting worse and worse every day. I just hope the next time I see this in the news, it is because something is changing, and not because another tragic event has occurred.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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