FARGO – Schools in Fargo/Moorhead joined the ranks of millions of children across the nation Wednesday morning, lending their voices to the fight to keep schools safe. While some students, boisterous and playful, intermingled with others quietly sitting in solidarity at Ben Franklin Middle School, their message was clear: they know what’s going on, and they all want to feel safe and free.
The walkouts were student-led, and occurred in many middle and secondary schools at 10am, lasting for 17 minutes to remember the 17 students reportedly gunned down in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a former student, 19-year-old suspect Nikolas Cruz.
Fargo Public Schools Spokesperson Ann Marie Campbell said the school board does not have an official response to the walkouts, but is generally supportive by not suggesting any disciplinary actions.
“We’re allowing students to have a demonstration, but we’re not using that word support, we won’t prohibit or encourage anyone who wants to participate,” Campbell said.
Ben Franklin Principal John Nelson, who has led the middle school since 1996, said he has asked children if they knew what they were walking out of class for, and although a small handful joined because their friends were going, most were aware of recent events in the news.
“I talked to them about civic duty, and district said that if kids decide to walk out then we are in full support of this,” Nelson said. “We aren’t going to discipline the kids for doing so. Kids are going to try and have a message and a purpose here, and some of the conversations I’ve tried to have with the kids are, ‘What are you walking out for? What are you supporting?’”
One student ran back into the school crying shortly before the students’ 17 minutes expired, troubled that not all students were being silent, Nelson said. He reassured her that many students have taken the issues of school safety to heart.
While the School Resource Officer stood guard nearby, seventh grader Lulu Espinoza waved a handmade sign saying gun control was needed.
“Enough is enough, books not bullets,” the sign also read. Classmates signed their names to the placard. Some children held up simpler signs reading “17.” Others held posters saying, “Fear has no place in school.”
“Why do we children have to suffer for government decisions, when we’re out here supporting the kids whose lives have been taken away,” Espinoza said.
“I’m out here because I want all schools to have the safety,” Kate Lill, a seventh grader said.
“I’m freezing for the children,” Kaylee Kern, a seventh grader, said. Despite the sunshine, she shivered in the 35-degree weather.
Timi Shorunke, a sixth grader, put himself in the shoes of the families suffering losses from recent gun shootings.
“If it was my family, the way I would feel, people need to start using guns the right way,” Shorunke said.
“We just need to have more gun laws,” Aiden Prince, a sixth grader, said. “We need to raise the age limit to buy guns. You can buy a gun before you’re 21, but you can’t buy a beer.”
“I feel like kids should be able to go to school and not worry about being shot or killed,” Emily Gorder, a seventh grader said. “This isn’t something we have to worry about so far in Fargo, but I feel for those places that have had these things happen.”
Students’ concerns extended to bullying, saying that reports indicate that Cruz was bullied during high school.
“Kids should be kinder to each other,” Jack Dickinson, a seventh grader said. “This kid was highly bullied, and that is not okay.”
Other children said banning assault-style rifles may not be the answer because attackers might switch to bombs instead.
“Kids around the country are scared to go to school, and that should not be happening,” Audrey Kemmer, a seventh grader, said.
Safety is what Kemmer wants, she said, and her school offers her that protection.
“If there was something terrible happening or like a zombie attack this is the one place I would run to for protection,” another student said.
Ludden Ahmed, a seventh grader, said she felt sad for the people who died, and although she feels safe at Ben Franklin Middle School, the idea that someone could come into the school wanting to do harm is a disturbing thought that has been the focus of family conversations.
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