In hopes of promoting a safer future for schools, high school students in Taos are planning a community-wide walkout to speak out against gun violence on campuses.
Motivated by the recent school shootings across the U.S., students nationwide will be taking part in an April 20 walkout to demonstrate against gun violence. Taos students from Vista Grande High School, Taos Charter School and Taos Academy will be walking out and letting their voices be heard in solidarity with a growing number of cities in the country.
“It feels right,” said Vista Grande Principal Isabelle St. Onge. “I think we should respect students’ opinions. I’m sick of having to run active shooter drills. I’m sick of having to worry about students getting shot in this building.”
Students at Vista Grande began organizing for the demonstration after Heather McReynolds, Vista Grande crew leader, began talking with students on their feelings on the subject of gun violence. According to McReynolds, a majority of students she interacted with are supportive of the initiative to demonstrate against gun violence and to rally for stricter gun laws.
Students will be marching from 8 a.m. to noon Friday to the plaza to demonstrate in remembrance of the recent shootings and to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999 that left 15 dead.
Taos Academy student Nalia Kast has also been working to organize the event in her school and has done so with the help of student leaders and faculty at the school. For the past five weeks, Klast has been informing and organizing students to be ready for Friday’s walkout. Klast has the support of the administration, and the walkout will occur on a day when not many students are scheduled to be in class since Taos Academy is on a four-day week schedule.
“It has been really great to have the support of Taos Academy’s faculty members,” Klast said in an email. “Especially since other schools across the nation, (maybe even in Taos), are threatening suspension for students to walk out of class. Based on numerous discussions, students at Taos Academy have said they feel very connected to our teachers and there is definitely trust there.”
H. Warren Kelly, dean of students at Taos Academy, said students were inspired by the Parkland, Florida and Aztec, New Mexico school shootings and began to get efforts together to join in the national conversation. Overall, Kelly said students at Taos Academy feel safe, but they wish to bring their message to stop gun violence to the heart of the community.
“Can we all agree that we are against students being hurt by firearms at schools?,” Kelly asked.
Taos Academy and Vista Grande will be walking out on a day that works for the schedule of both schools. Since Taos Academy students are primarily off that day, only students who need to make up work or time will be in school, according to Kelly.
Vista Grande has plans for students who do not wish to take part in the demonstrations while an estimated 70 percent of students march to the plaza. Students at Vista Grande who wish to stay in school will have teachers present as well as Earth Day activities to participate in, according to McReynolds.
Many of the staff from both schools will be walking to the Taos Plaza in support of the students.
Despite the support from charter school administrators, public school officials are taking a more cautious approach to lending their students support for the demonstration. Taos High School Principal Robbie Trujillo says he does not want to infringe on the students’ right to free speech, but safety is a major concern for his students during the walkout.
“Under our policy, walkouts are something we don’t promote at our school if it’s during our school day,” Trujillo said. “We want our students to practice their right to free speech, but under our policy that is considered a school disruption. There is a possibility of other consequences, including suspension. It’s an unexcused absence.”
Seniors at Taos High School do have off-campus privileges, and Trujillo said they could use their lunch period to attend the walk. Any student other than seniors on their lunch who walk out can expect their parents to be notified that their student is not at school.
According to Trujillo, Taos Municipal Schools are responsible for students during the day when they are on campus. Students leaving campus presents a safety issue the school would have to address.
Trujillo also said the day is a known ditch day for students. The day has a popular association between 4-20 and cannabis. He is concerned students who take part in the walkout might not understand the exact reasons behind the demonstrations. Trujillo said that any further consequences for missing class in sports or extracurricular activities would be determined by those coaches or sponsors.
Others believe the walkout is an opportunity for students to get involved with a national debate.
“I’d like to see what comes out of a true piece of student activism,” said Kelly. “I hope for a nice, respectful event.”