NEWPORT — About 70 students from Nokomis Regional High School walked out of class Thursday to show solidarity with victims of school shootings and to protest gun violence.

“We should have the right to feel safe in our classroom,” said Jackson Peck, a senior at Nokomis who also organized Thursday’s walkout, addressing the students gathered at the front of the high school. “Students and teachers all across this state and all across this country should not be fearful that their brothers, sisters, friends and teachers may become one more name on a growing list of victims. So I applaud you all for standing up for change.”

Students from schools across the state were holding similar walkouts Thursday morning, a day after a snowstorm canceled classes and forced students to postpone their demonstrations that were originally scheduled for Wednesday.

The nationwide walkout was planned to coincide with the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 people, including students and staff members, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Most walkouts began at 10 a.m. Wednesday and lasted for 17 minutes to mark the 17 lives lost.

The shooting has sparked young people, particularly the students who survived the Parkland shooting, to take up the role of activists advocating for new gun laws and policies to make schools safer.

Peck, who interned with the Maine Democratic Party over the summer helping to organize outreach, said he was sick of hearing the same thing from politicians and people in Congress after mass shootings and wanted to do something after Parkland.

“We’re hearing the same conversation about ‘We’re very sorry this happened and we’re going to move on as a country.’ But I don’t think we should move on.,” he said in an interview after the event. “I don’t think we can ever move on.”

Upon hearing his friends at Nokomis voice interest in participating in the nationwide protest, Peck decided to organize a more structured event. He coordinated with other students who wanted to deliver speeches about their views on gun violence and school safety and brought the idea to the school’s administration for approval. Nokomis Principal Mary Nadeau said the demonstration was entirely conceived and executed by the students.

Peck opened the event with a call to action.

“We need Congress to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers after school shootings,” he said. “Since Sandy Hook, there have been over 200 school shootings resulting in over 400 people shot. We demand Congress pass sensible legislation that would help keep us and our loved ones safe from gun violence at school and beyond.”

Sarah Hill, a senior, argued in her speech that guns are too accessible and too easy to obtain, leading to mass violence.

“School is supposed to be a place where you go to learn, but they’re being turned into shooting ranges and nobody is doing anything about it,” she said.

Hill said gun violence doesn’t target specific people or areas and that a shooting could happen anywhere.

“The 17 students (and staff members) at Parkland could have easily been any of us,” Hill said. “Any of your friends that you’re with every day, any of the people in your life that you love.”

Mike Conners, also a senior, called attention to the school shootings that have taken place since Parkland that haven’t received the same attention in news media and from elected officials. He said he was speaking in honor of those killed and injured in three shootings that took place in Michigan and Alabama in recent weeks, as well as those who are killed in gun-related homicides every day.

“I’m speaking today to be the voice for the voices that are no longer with us,” Conners said. “The people and children targeted in these shootings will never be able to experience a life like you and I will.”

He closed by asking the group of students to be grateful, to be kind and to try to make a difference in someone’s day.

“Be thankful that all of us are here today to make a change,” he said.

Students, many wearing orange T-shirts, a color used by the movement against gun violence, listened solemnly as their peers gave speeches.

After the speeches, the names of the 17 people killed in Parkland were read aloud and the students took part in a moment of silence to honor the victims.

Peck closed the event by encouraging his classmates to go home and have conversations with their parents and families about gun violence and why they want to see change.

“One of the things I saw was that parents didn’t quite understand why we were coming out here today, so one of the most important things that we can do as students is go home and tell our parents what we think about gun violence,” he said.

He also handed out contact information for Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Bruce Poliquin so students could urge the delegation to work on gun control efforts.

“This is part of a conversation and a dialogue that needs to continue to happen,” he said. “And hopefully, eventually, it will lead to change.”

SKOWHEGAN

About a dozen Skowhegan Area High School students assembled in the school gymnasium Thursday morning in observance of the storm-delayed national walkout on Wednesday. Students at the high school had been the general target of social media threats two weeks earlier.

At 10:05 a.m. Thursday, the small group of Skowhegan high school students could be seen from the parking lot going into the gymnasium.

No one walked out of school.

Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam and School Resource Officer David Daigneault joined them for the assembly.

“If any student wishes to take part of the walkout, they’re going to allow them to leave class, but not to leave the interior of the school; they’ll redirect them into the gym if there’s too many people,” Bucknam said outside the school just before 10 a.m. Thursday. “It’s ensuring the safety of the students if they decide to take part in the walkout. The school’s going to monitor it for everybody’s safety.”

Bucknam emerged from the school after the 17-minute assembly, saying 11 students had attended. He said school administrators spoke to them about the issues and the students also spoke out, telling school officials why they wanted to assemble.

“They were saying they were against the gun violence and the threats at the school, and they think all of the students should be getting together as one to make sure they feel safe.” Bucknam said. “They feel safe right now.”

Bucknam said he thanked the students for letting the administration know about the social media threats made at the end of February and early March.

“It takes them to let us know,” Bucknam said. “We also stressed to them that if they see or hear things that seem weird, they need to let school administration know so that we can investigate it further.”

Bucknam said the students noted national news reporting Wednesday about walkout events. He said there was one story about a school that conducted a series of 17 acts of kindness.

“The students said ‘Why 17? Why not do something all year round?'” Bucknam said.

School officials said they wanted to keep Thursday’s demonstration low-key while allowing as many students as wanted to participate to have a voice. The total enrollment at the high school is about 780.

“We are keeping this as a school event and feel there is no need for the press to come in and take photos and interview students,” high school Principal Bruce Mochamer said Wednesday in an email to the Morning Sentinel. “We are keeping this as low-key event and will be keeping our students in the building for safety reasons.

School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Brent Colbry said via email Tuesday that the principal has continued to talk with students and staff members.

“There is no planned walkout, but students have been advised that if they wish to express themselves during the 17 minute time they will be given the opportunity in a safe space with staff supervision inside the building,” Colbry said. “Classes will go on as normal all day.

“We are listening to students and working with them to allow for those who wish to express their feelings on this important issue in a safe and orderly place and time to do so without a significant disruption to school,” Colbry wrote in another email on March 6.

OTHER SCHOOLS

Waterville Junior and Senior High Schools and Messalonskee High School were among the local schools forced to cancel their protests Wednesday. Students and faculty members at those schools still are trying to figure out if and when those events will now take place.

Upper Kennebec Valley High School in Bingham had planned to allow students to leave class during an “intermission” from 10 to 10:20 a.m. Wednesday, during which students who support and do not support the initiatives espoused by the organizers of the walkout would be provided a space within the school where they could discuss their opinions.

Initially, officials from the Bingham-based School Administrative District 13 warned students that participating in the walkout could result in disciplinary action. The school board and Superintendent Virginia Rebar later reversed that decision so all views on the issue could be discussed.

Rebar could not be reached Thursday to say whether the school went on with the planned intermission following the snow day.

In the Augusta area, district and school officials said no student walkouts were planned for Thursday, but there is some expectation that events might be held in the future.

School Administrative District 11 Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said she didn’t expect any walkout and that students will be working with staff members and administration to find another day to express their views on the importance of school safety. SAD 11 includes Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner.

Superintendent Bill Zima, of Regional School Unit 2, which serves Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth, Richmond and, said he wasn’t told by any school administrators about any walkouts planned. At Cony High School in Augusta, an official said there wasn’t anything happening Thursday, but there would likely be an event of some kind in the near future.

Emily Higginbotham — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @EmilyHigg

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