How Middle Tennessee Students Protested Gun Violence During National School Walkout | Nashville Public Radio

How Middle Tennessee Students Protested Gun Violence During National School Walkout

Mar 14, 2018

This post was last updated at 11:45 a.m.

Students across the country have been organizing for a March 14 demonstration since the Valentine's Day shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. In Middle Tennessee, high schoolers stood in silence, waved signs, marched and chanted. 

Two Schools, Two Different Emphases

Students at Hillsboro High School said they are concerned about pending legislation that would allow some teachers in Tennessee to bring firearms into the classroom. 

“It’s not fair for students to not have a voice [when it comes to] having guns in their schools or having their teachers hold guns in the classroom,” said Fatima Vargas, a 16-year-old junior and one of the organizers of today’s event at the school in Green Hills. “And it’s not fair having that fear — going to school and having to fear.”

Hillsboro student Fatima Vargas says students should have a say in in the debate over arming certain teachers.
Credit Julieta Martinelli / WPLN

Vargas says she was surprised by how many students participated: Hundreds of students marched outside at 10 a.m. and remained in front of the school for exactly 17 minutes. Some made signs, including ones that read "enough is enough," "our school has no place for fear" and "end gun violence."

Others students brought megaphones and speakers. At one point, someone began playing the drums and a group of students began chanting “hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go."

Student organizers at Hillsboro High School say more than 400 students — about a third of the student body — participated in the walkout.
Credit Nevin Bulut / Submited

Vargas says the students felt inspired to organize their own walkout out after seeing the show of support nationwide through social media, adding that they speak for some of their teachers, too, who don’t think the solution to a growing gun problem is allowing more weapons behind school walls. 

- Julieta Martinelli

Across town at Pearl-Cohn High School, students weren't chanting about the National Rifle Association or calling for restrictions on high-powered assault rifles. Their concerns are more localized.

Last month, a freshman was nearly killed at the edge of campus just as school let out. A 14-year-old has since surrendered to authorities. And just last week, an 18-year-old student was arrested from possessing a semi-automatic weapon in his car.

"People shouldn't be out here using guns to kill people, and they need to stop all this gun violence," said senior Jatina Ballard, carrying a homemade sign she made for Wednesday's protest.

Ballard says she's known several people killed by guns. While she sympathizes with the students who endured the massacre in Parkland, she hopes the national focus might also make her peers think twice before bringing a gun onto campus.

"Because I don't want to lose more people to gun violence," she said. "You shouldn't feel unsafe at school."

- Blake Farmer

Updated at 11:00
The steps at the State Capitol have filled with students waving signs and chanting. 

Updated at 10:30
Students from Hume Fogg High School have left campus and are marching downtown.

Participants around Middle Tennessee are posting videos of their school walkouts on Snapchat. You can follow along on this interactive map. This one from Murfreesboro shows students gathered outside listening to speeches through a PA system. 

Updated at 10:10
WPLN's Julieta Martinelli is on the front lawn of Hillsboro High School, where a large group of students is gathered for speeches, singing and poems. 



Updated at 10:05
WPLN's Blake Farmer is a Pearl-Cohn High School where a group of students have walked out.

Original Post:

Plans Across The Region

The nationwide walkout is unified in observing one minute of silence for each of the victims of the Parkland Florida massacre but the way students will participate varies by community. 

For the most part, area school administrators have been sending messages of support — or at least acceptance — of the walkouts in recent days, focusing on avoiding disorder and providing safety.

Metro Nashville Public Schools has endorsed a plan for high school students to exit their classrooms and sit in the hallways at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes, one for each of the Parkland victims. But some students are saying they will defy rules against leaving campus in order take their grievances to the state capitol. 

In an email, one parent says a large group of Metro students will ignore the requests to sit in hallways and instead lead a march downtown. 

MNPS spokesperson Michelle Michaud says students are supposed to have permission from a parent in order to leave, like any other absence. "If they walkout without permission and do not sign out and do not come back then they are subject to the MNPS Student Code of Conduct. If they don’t come back they could be subject to loitering laws by MNPD. As you can see, there are a lot of 'ifs' for today," she asid.

According to The Leaf Chronicle, Clarksville students will be allowed to walk out only with a parent's signature. We've also gotten word of schools participating in Rutherford, Sumner and Williamson and Coffee Counties.

Though high school students are leading way, some younger kids will participate as well. Dan Mills Elementary School Principal Robby Yates sent a voicemail to parents saying that students would be allowed to leave the building, but only with a parent who has signed in at the front desk.

"Children signed out for the walkout will not be marked absent," he said. "Nor will the minutes out of the building be counted against them." The school is hosting a 10 a.m. assembly on "school-wide safety procedures" for students not participating.

In Rutherford County, one of the schools that had registered with the national Women's March as an official walkout site is no longer participating. A student organizer at Riverdale High School said they called off the walkout because their boys' basketball team is playing in the state championships today.

And in Sumner County, school leaders say they support their students right to express themselves and are hoping to keep participants in designated safe areas. 

Hendersonville High School 16-year-old Kathryn Reagan says she wants to stand in solidarity with the students in Parkland and to protest Congress’ inaction on gun violence. It's that second part which is keeping some of her classmates from coming out today. 

“Yes, I’ve had many people say that they support the part about supporting Parkland but do not support the last half of what the movement stands for. That’s come up a couple of times," she said. 

Student Rights

In anticipation of the student-led school walkouts to protest gun violence, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee sent a letter this week to every school district in the state. In it, the organization told school leaders that the federal and state constitutions protect political speech. According to the ACLU, "Students cannot be considered disruptive for wearing ... clothes or accessories that bear political viewpoints,” nor can they face discipline as a result.

The ACLU writes students can only be punished for expressing their beliefs if it disrupts school functioning or the substance is lewd or vulgar, and that the Constitution forbids harsher discipline for politically-motivated conduct than for similar, non-political behavior.