Hundreds of Dana Hills High School students walked onto the school’s softball field at around 9:55 a.m. Wednesday, participating in a protest marking the one month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla.
The demonstration was one of the first of several protests planned for the coming months, wherein youths would demonstrate their waking influence on the country.
The organizers of the Dana Hills High protest distinguished their event by embracing a trend to depoliticize school massacres.
Madison Grimes, a junior, said she had caught wind of the movement and decided to tailor it to be more inclusive.
“Our protest isn’t for gun control,” Madison, 16, said. “We are just anti-school violence. We are welcoming everyone with all opinions here.”
The official stance of Women’s March Youth Empower, which initiated the national event, is explicitly about gun control. The movement’s website protest toolkit provided suggestions on how to demonstrate, including that protests should be held at 10 a.m. and should last 17 minutes — one for every person who was killed in Parkland.
The movement stated that the purpose is “to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship.”
About half of the parents wore T-shirts bearing the protest’s official name “Enough,” and depicting an AK-47 within a universal “no” symbol. One of the women offered both cookies and voter registration forms to students.
Protest organizers Grimes and fellow junior Olivia Drury, 16, invited students to add their names to a letter that would be sent to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif).
The purpose for the letter stated, in part: “We demand that you take action in ensuring school safety, fighting for gun regulation, and halting any lobbying from the National Rifle Assn. to assure that each member of Congress represents the people who elected them.”
More than one political view was represented at the protest.
As a large group of students prepared to observe a moment of silence, a student carrying a Trump flag ran onto the field and was joined by about a half-dozen peers holding flags which read “Don’t Tread On Me.”
The small group was quickly converged upon by some students who were participating in the walk out.
Some students refrained from joining in the fracas and said to one another that such conflict was counterproductive to the collective goal of establishing safety in schools.
The district has chosen to refrain from taking a political stance.
Ryan Burris, chief communications officer for Capistrano Unified School District, said the district respects “the voices of children and free speech, but we are not supporting or endorsing any walkouts.”
Faculty and staff were not permitted to help plan political activity beyond assisting with logistics in order to ensure student safety.
“We’re a district that has been very proactive since Columbine, and we’ve been adding to our practices, procedures, protocols since then,” Burris said.
The district had scheduled a board meeting with parents for later that day, presenting a talk on safety and security policies, including teacher training, evade and engage drills with students and a comprehensive communication and notification system.
That system, partially modeled after one developed by Grossmont Union High School District, in the wake of the Santee High School shooting, includes a solid network between site administrators, law enforcement and other emergency services, as stated on the CUSD website.
“My first act was to go to the principal and we worked together to make this as safe and efficient as possible,” Madison said, adding Dana Hills High School was a safe campus.
After the protest, students walked back to class.
“We plan to work with our fellow protesters to hold [town hall meetings and] public forums with our representatives to push for gun and school safety reform,” Olivia said.
Scott Feinblatt is a contributor to Times Community News.