At a gathering Tuesday night to plan campus protests over school shootings and lack of gun control, Modesto students shared how the latest violence — 17 students and faculty members killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — has heightened their fears.
After reading and watching coverage of the mass shooting, Beyer High School junior Sophia Potochnik said she was deeply shaken.
"I started bawling and started crying to my mom, and we just talked together for a long time," she said. "I really didn't want to go to school the next day, and someone in my history class dropped a binder or something and it made such a loud noise that I jumped in my seat. That shouldn't be happening. School should be a safe place where students can go to just learn and be focused on learning. That's what they're there for. They shouldn't be somewhere where you need to be worried about about being shot or concerned about an active shooter."
A Gregori High senior, Maci Ferreira, said a teacher's comment about students and staff being "sitting ducks" got her thinking. If a gunman entered the campus, she said, there's no teacher, student or security guard who could stop him. "In a fistfight against a gun, you're not going to win," Maci said. "... I shouldn't have to worry about walking on campus and later that day somebody with a gun walking on campus, too. ... Congress needs to take action to protect our schools."
The girls, along with schoolmates and peers from Enochs High, are organizing local participation in the National School Walkout planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. The plan — still a work in progress — would be for students to walk out of class at 10 a.m. that Friday but stay on campus to peacefully protest gun violence. Participants will be urged to wear orange, the color that has come to represent the movement against gun violence.
The students have set up an Instagram feed, @mcsnationalwalkout, where classmates at Enochs, Beyer and Gregori can sign up for Reminds to stay updated.
Students and a parent interviewed at Davis High School on Tuesday said they had not heard much about the walkout but were concerned in general about safety.
"I honestly feel that the campuses should be more enclosed, more secure," Kami Martell said while waiting to pick up daughter Emily Daniel. "I think security could be a little tighter."
Emily agreed: "Basically, I believe that schools shouldn't be as easy to access because things like this happen."
Enochs junior Isabel Garcia, who heard about the nationwide walkout plans and thought it important to include Stanislaus County in the movement, got the ball rolling here. She said she's communicated with students at Downey, Modesto, Ceres, Davis and other high schools who want to get their campuses involved.
Garcia said she envisions protest that includes chants — the National School Walkout logo includes the words "We are victims, we are students, we are change" — and speakers from the community and school clubs. Organizers hope to get teachers and parents involved, too.
"We want to make some noise and make our voices heard. We don't feel safe," she said. The protests are a call to action by the federal government to "do something, do anything (about gun violence), because right now, there's no action at all."
Erin Stanfield, a Beyer receptionist and parent of a student at the Sylvan Avenue school, said she's still forming her opinion on the planned walkout. "If it's just for them to get out of class and say, 'Hey, Mr. President, here we are, we’re out of class, do something,' and he does nothing, well, I've already seen the news: Kids have written to him and he hasn't answered any kind of questions they’ve had on, 'What are you going to do about school safety?'"
In the front office at Beyer, she said she can't let herself live with worry each school day. "It's not in my brain all the time," Stanfield said. She paused before adding, "I am ... very aware of my surroundings, let's put it that way." She keeps her eyes on what's going on in front of the school, steps outside every once in a while and is quick to call a campus supervisor if she sees anything that doesn't look right, she said.
She says she's not the type to say, "It couldn't happen at my school."
On Tuesday, Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Dana Salles Trevethan sent a message to district families that outlined efforts to ensure campus safety, including locked classroom doors during instructional time, fencing and security cameras, and campus security from first to last bells at all sites.
Asked about TUSD's anticipated position on its high school students participating in the April 20 walkout, spokeswoman Marie Russell told The Bee, "Our district will support student and staff rights to freedom of expression while upholding the safety and security of our schools. TUSD is collaborating with site administration to ensure students and staff remain safe during this planned walkout or any other similar activities. We are sensitive to the fact that many in our TUSD community were deeply affected by Florida’s recent tragedy, and we want to ensure our school environment remains orderly and safe."
Modesto City Schools interim Superintendent Craig Rydquist was making school site visits Wednesday and as of early afternoon unavailable to state a district position.