School-walkout unity also lays bare division among students
As she addressed the crowd during the walkout at her Idaho high school, Kylee Denny faced heckles and name-calling from a group of students carrying American flags, she said. The counterprotesters included many familiar faces, including her boyfriend’s stepbrother.
To avoid making a difficult situation worse, Kylee’s boyfriend stayed in class during the rally at Hillcrest High School in Idaho Falls, which was part of Wednesday’s national school walkout.
“I’m dating his stepbrother, which is really incredibly awkward, and it’s very tense because he was being so hostile about losing respect for me because I was walking out,” said Kylee, a 17-year-old junior.
The walkouts to protest gun violence that mobilized students across the country also created tensions in hallways and classrooms as a new generation was thrust into the debate over guns. While those calling for new restrictions stood in the spotlight, the surge of youth activism has exposed sharp differences of opinion.
Administrators and student leaders are also sorting through the fallout as some schools hand out discipline for those who defied school instructions and participated in the walkouts exactly one month after the massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
In some cases, personal relationships have been strained.
Ryler Hanosky said he was disappointed that his stepbrother, Kylee’s boyfriend, did not join the counterprotest.
“He’s a hunter just like me. He likes his guns,” Ryler said. “I told him, ‘You need to come with us,’ and he’s like, ‘No I’m just going to stay out of it.’ It kind of makes me mad a little bit.”
Ahead of the walkout, Ryler and like-minded friends gathered at a high- school spirit rock. There were some arguments about guns, he said, but it was peaceful and students respected one another’s views. The day after the walkout, Jess said, her civics teacher defused some tension by letting students take turns sharing their opinions on the walkout.
Organizers of the national walkouts called for such measures as tighter background checks on gun purchases and a ban on assault weapons such as the one used in the Florida bloodbath. A protest against gun violence is also scheduled in Washington on Saturday, and another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High shooting in Colorado.
In last week’s walkouts, some students tried to steer clear of politics entirely, including Jacob Shoemaker, a senior at Hilliard High School in Ohio, who was suspended a day for not following instructions because he stayed in a classroom instead of joining protests or the alternative, a study hall. School, he said, isn’t the place for politics, and he wasn’t taking sides.