Fewer Maryland students expected to participate in second school walkout, as other events are planned

Fewer Maryland students are expected to leave their classrooms Friday morning for the second national school walkout against gun violence.

There are still more than 2,000 individual school walkouts planned across the country — including at least one in every state. But students and administrators in the Baltimore region say they don’t expect participation will be as widespread as it was during the last month’s protest, held on the one-month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Fla, in which 17 people were killed.

“We’ve heard very little about this one actually,” said Anne Arundel County’s schools spokesman, Bob Mosier.

Friday’s planned walkout comes on the 19th anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, when two students shot and killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher.

Organizers hope Friday’s walkout shows politicians that the students behind the anti-gun violence movement won’t allow their story to fade from the news cycle.

“This issue needs constant attention if we hope to change anything,” according to their website.

But across the Baltimore region, superintendents have said they expect April 20 to go on as any other school day. Some district leaders have expressed concern that these protests have grown increasingly political.

Carroll County has taken a hard line against student participation. Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said recently that students who choose to participate could face a range of consequences, from a parent-teacher conference to suspension.

The Harford County school system also does not condone a walkout on Friday, officials said. Instead, each middle and high school has prepared to honor lives lost in school shootings by holding a moment of silence before the instructional day begins.

Even the principal at Columbine High School, the site of the deadly shooting on April 20, 1999, that is the anchor of Friday’s demonstration, has urged students not to walk out.

“Please consider planning service projects, an activity that will somehow build up your school, or perhaps pre-Day Without Hate event on April 20, as opposed to a walkout,” wrote current principal Scott Christy and former principal Frank DeAngelis in a joint letter.

Some Maryland schools have scheduled memorial events to take place inside classrooms.

The Baltimore School for the Arts is putting on a play about gun violence. At Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, where about 300 students walked out in March, students will make announcements over the public address system at 10 a.m. and hold a moment of silence.

“I wanted to do a walkout again, but we probably wouldn’t have gotten as many people and we’d be conveying the same message,” said 15-year-old Anna Hilger. “With the PA system, we can reach all 1,600 kids and we can talk about the importance of voter registration.”

In Howard County, officials aren’t prohibiting student participation but are requiring that any activities be done in “a safe and responsible manner and with limited disruption to the academic day.”

“I am aware that national efforts are calling on students to walk out of school at 10 a.m. and not return,” Howard Superintendent Michael J. Martirano wrote in a letter to families. “As part of my guidance to school administrators, I am expecting events not to exceed one hour.”

Baltimore City Public Schools officials have encouraged principals to designate space and time within their buildings for students to discuss gun violence and “identify effective ways to advance their priorities.”

For the students and schools who are participating in Friday’s walkout, the stated goal is to send a message that inaction around school violence is unacceptable.

Some school administrators say student advocacy has, in fact, led to action since the Parkland shooting. When Guthrie explained his decision to forbid Carroll students to walk out on Friday, he cited his district’s new plan to put armed law enforcement officers in some county schools. Additionally, he discussed how the Maryland General Assembly recently passed sweeping legislation aimed at school safety.

“These voices have been heard,” he said. “That’s a box that can be checked.”

For one Maryland school, Friday holds extra significance. It is the one-month anniversary of the shooting at Great Mills High School.

On March 20, a student walked into the St. Mary’s County school and fatally shot 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey. He also injured a 14-year-old boy before killing himself during a confrontation with a school resource officer, according to police.

Great Mills students plan to gather during their lunch period Friday to honor Willey’s life and speak out against gun violence.