‘If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will?’


Mike Munzenrider photos • Led by members of the group Students Against Gun Violence, Roseville Area High School students joined nationwide walkouts against gun violence March 14.

Hundreds of Roseville Area High School students participated in the walkout, which included 17 minutes of silence, a minute for each of the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting a month prior.

Mike Munzenrider photo • School administrators in other states promised suspensions and punishments for students who joined walkouts. RAHS Principal Christina Hester said there would be no such consequences for students from her school who participated.

Joseph Roberto, who formed the Students Against Gun Violence group, read the names of Parkland victims over a megaphone.

Students Against Gun Violence members Signy Weber, Mackenzie Frey, Emma Ford, Joseph Roberto and Leona Jacoby.

submitted photo • Students at Roseville’s Brimhall Elementary School also walked out of class March 14 to protest gun violence

Roseville students join nationwide walkouts against gun violence.

Hundreds of Roseville Area High School students joined scores of young people across the country in walking out of class March 14 to protest gun violence and call for tighter gun laws.

Led by members of the school group Students Against Gun Violence, the high schoolers made their way off school property at 10 a.m. to an adjoining church parking lot to observe 17 minutes of silence for each of the 17 people shot to death in the Parkland, Florida, school massacre a month prior.

The killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, which pushed Parkland students into vocal advocacy for stronger gun control laws, were the breaking point for junior Joseph Roberto, who started Students Against Gun Violence.

“It catches me very off guard when there are shootings in school, and when the Parkland shooting happened, I was just done,” Roberto, a Roseville resident, said.

He, along with other members of the school group, read the names of those killed in Florida over a megaphone as their peers stood silently on a still-chilly spring day, with motorists on Hamline Avenue sometimes beeping their horns in support.

Roberto said the size and scope of the Parkland shooting affected him, along with how quickly the survivors spoke out against what he called the “inaction of what the government is doing” to protect students from guns. He said elected officials only offer their thoughts and prayers, but take no action.

Though he said he’s been through active shooter drills at school for as long as he can remember, a recent lockdown at RAHS because of a potentially violent situation near the school also hardened his resolve.

“I’m sitting [there] and I don’t know what’s happening,” he said of the lockdown. “I don’t know if this is going to my last day being alive.”

Roberto said students are calling for a number of policy changes, including universal background checks for all gun sales, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, the passage of gun violence restraining order laws, funding for gun violence research and the funding of safe gun storage.

 

View from above

Administrators, teachers and the RAHS school resource police officer kept a low profile as students carried out their protest. Roseville Area High School Principal Christina Hester stressed that the walkout was headed by students.

“The school district and RAHS staff had nothing to do with the organization of this event,” Hester said in an email. “This is completely student led with administrative support to make sure all views are respected.”

Though school administrators elsewhere in the country made headlines by promising suspensions and other consequences for student protests similar to those carried out by Parkland students, Hester said RAHS planned no such penalties. 

“It is 17 minutes out of the school day,” she said. “Our goal is to support all viewpoints in and out of the classroom, while keeping students and staff safe.”

As much was stated in a Feb. 23 email to district families from Roseville Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Aldo Sicoli. “At the district and school levels, we know our role is not to promote or inhibit these events,” he wrote.

A handful of parents came out in support of the walkout. Shoreview residents Becky Lucas and Robin Monahan were joined by their son Lucas, who graduated from RAHS last year.

“That the children are leading this is so profound and important,” Monahan said.

 

‘It’s the least

 we can do’

Junior Leona Jacoby said she knows Roberto from the debate team and became aware of the Students Against Gun Violence group because of his social media posts about it on Snapchat and Instagram. She said she wanted to help; the group met for the first time Feb. 28.

“We should be here,” Jacoby, a St. Paul resident, said just after the walkout.

“It’s the least we can do,” interjected Mackenzie Frey, a junior also from St. Paul.

Frey and Jacoby, along with Emma Ford, a sophomore from St. Paul and Signy Weber, a senior from Falcon Heights, joined Roberto in leading the walkout and reading the names of those killed in Florida.

Weber referenced the recent school lockdown at RAHS, noting that “nobody took it seriously.” As for her galvanizing moment, she said she went to a speech tournament that students from Parkland should have attended, realizing, “We could have been the team that wasn’t there.”

A number of the student leaders said their family members have expressed worries about their safety at school. Ford said her mother says “I love you” to her repeatedly as she leaves for school.

“I don’t want to feel scared going to school each morning,” Ford said, adding, “If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will?”

Frey said earlier that morning, her 10-year-old sister saw her making the sign she carried during the walkout and that her younger sibling had a request: “Please march for me.”

Civics lessons

While Frey marched for her elementary-aged sister, younger students in the Roseville school district joined in on the walkouts.

Melissa Walker, a Lauderdale resident with two children who go to Brimhall Elementary, attended the concurrent walkout at that school.

“I think it sends a pretty strong message that elementary students are aware,” Walker said, adding that while she tries to keep it to a minimum, she has discussed gun violence with her sixth-grader. Her other child is in fourth grade.

She said she was surprised by how many Brimhall students participated in the walkout — about half of the 100 sixth-graders at the school joined in, quietly holding signs, while a group of fifth graders chanted slogans. Younger students gathered on the other side of the building — Walker said she’d heard that kindergarteners sang songs about peace.

“I’m just in awe of all this,” she said. “It’s a powerful message about civics — I’m looking to [students] for their leadership in coming years.”

Sicoli was at Brimhall and was thanked by parents for how the district handled the gatherings, Walker said, adding the walkout, even for her young children, helped reinforce things her family values.

“We try to demonstrate that it’s important to be aware and educated,” she said. “For us, this is another piece of the puzzle.”

 

Marching ahead

Back at Roseville Area High School, the student organizers stressed that they aren’t calling for anybody to give up their guns; many Republican lawmakers, gun enthusiasts and the gun lobby consider stricter gun control laws to be an infringement of constitutional rights.

Another argument against high school activism against gun violence that’s emerged in the national discussion is that such activists are too young to have a well-informed opinion on the matter.

Roberto disagreed, arguing that students will be directly affected by any changes to gun laws. “Our schools are unsafe because of gun violence,” he said.

“A majority of students in high school are extremely educated — that’s the point — and our education system has done a good job of helping students make their own well-thought-out ideas,” he added.

Roberto pointed out RAHS’ 600-or-so seniors who are of voting age or are about to be 18 years old, and that many won’t be voting for candidates who don’t support tighter gun control laws. “That’s something politicians need to think about.”

Parkland students have organized a “March For Our Lives” in Washington, D.C., for March 24, and more nationwide student events are slated for April 20.

Said Roberto, “We need something done and we need something done now, and our voices need to be heard because we’re the people who are affected by this.”


 

– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)
Comment Here