By ANIKET MEHROTRA
At least 500 students walked out of their first-period classes on Wednesday morning in protest of the lack of governmental gun reform in midst of the mass shooting at Marjory Steven Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last month.
Students walked out 10 minutes before office hours began, congregating outside the 500s building before marching through the crossroads and to the front parking lot.
Here, they engaged in a sit-in for 17 minutes where they entertained student speakers and held a moment of silence for the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting.
In addition, various booths were set up by student organizers, including booths for writing letters to California legislators, pre-registering to vote, writing Post-It Notes to express their reasons for walking out, distributing a variety of pins and making posters to participate in the protest.
The walkout at UHS was organized by seniors Cathy Sun, Raina Zhao, Ashley Yang, Anahita Amirshahi and Anna Zeng and junior Teagan So.
It was one of 3,000 walkouts that occurred across the nation and one of several that took place in Irvine.
“We [want] to be able to encourage this group of students who would otherwise be politically apathetic, to understand the importance of being engaged,” Sun said. “For those who are able to vote, we want to encourage them to be more informed about [the gun reform issue] and how their vote can change that.”
Motivated by the the advocacy of the survivors of the Parkland shooting, the student organizers have been planning the walkout for weeks prior to Wednesday.
This included coordinating with members of the administration.
“We had a lot of meetings with admin, with Principal Kevin Astor [to figure] out all the logistics and those went very well,” Amirshahi said. “It was us informing him of what would be happening so he could take all the necessary safety precautions.”
To ensure the physical and legal protection of all students, traffic cones were placed at all the entrances into campus and members of the Irvine Police Department (IPD) were stationed at the entryway into the school from Culver.
Although it is a concern, the administration was “less concerned” about students going off campus to protest than “people coming on [campus]” such as “University of California (UCI) students [and] community members.”
According to an email sent by Astor on March 6, students who walk out during the last 10 minutes of first period will be given an informal detention.
This disciplinary action will not appear on student’s permanent records nor affect the college admission process.
“Our goal [was] to work with students to help them exercise their rights to free speech [while also] helping them to understand what the consequences might be,” Astor said. “[We want to figure out] how we can meet some of [their] goals in a way that doesn’t negatively impact the school and doesn’t take away from other students.”
Astor specified that the detentions will be about 30 minutes long.
The date of the detention is currently not known.
The student organizers feel that administration was “as supportive as [it] could have been” of their cause.
“He asked us a lot of questions [and] he wanted to know exactly what was happening so that if anything went wrong he could prevent it from happening,” Amirshahi said. “And he wore an orange tie [on Wednesday], so I think that says it all.”
Many students believe that the mass detention will bring a greater drive to the movement.
“I don’t think it’s something people should be worried about at all,” Amirshahi said. “It makes civil disobedience more rebellious.”
Students who walked out after first period ended will not face any disciplinary action.
Astor addressed the concerns of many students that the administration was not as accommodating to the cause as other schools in the Irvine Unified School District (IUSD), such as Northwood and Woodbridge High Schools, who adjusted their schedules to allot enough time for students to walk out without consequence.
“If we didn’t have office hours, we probably would have made an adjustment to our schedule,” Astor said. “But we didn’t need to because we had that time.”
Like students, staff members do not completely forfeit their First Amendment rights while on campus, but were expected to remain a neutral party to avoid influencing their students’ opinions on controversial issues.
“Employees may not engage in any activity or conduct that could be interpreted as advocating for or influencing a political action or agenda during school hours or on school grounds,” UHS ITA Representative Ms. Teresa Ozoa said. “But sort of as an acknowledgement of reality there’s just an implied obligation and responsibility to [protect] the students.”
In addition, if a teacher willingly complied to students’ desire to walk out before the end of first period, they could potentially face serious legal action if a student is injured at any time.
However, staff members may participate in such protests as private citizens off of school property and after school hours.
They may also share their personal opinions with students so long as the opinion is labeled as their own and discuss the issue so long as regular school activities are not left undone.
“Teachers are not allowed to leave their ‘post’ during their assigned hours of work [but] they are free before school, during lunch, and after school,” Irvine Teacher Association President Therese Sorey said in a personal interview with Sword and Shield. “If the protest takes place on campus during break, teachers can leave their rooms locked and go to where the students are on campus.”
Spanish teacher Sra. Karla Covarrubias sees the walkout as representative of the large potential of the future generation.
“I really respect when young people want to engage in this,” Covarrubias said. “I love when I see the hope [in] knowing that the new generation will care enough to do something, unlike people who want to just give an opinion and actually not do anything.”
Many students were surprised at the amount of students that walked out of their first period, even when they were aware of the subsequent consequences.
“I was shocked that kids who live in the Irvine bubble actually cared,” sophomore Keza Kananura said. “ I was happy about that because I cared so much about what we’re doing and standing up for ourselves, so I was like ‘Yes, we gotta do this!’”
Other students understood the necessity of having a walkout on campus.
“I don’t know anything about guns,” junior Angelina Ross said, “but I used to live in Colorado, and ever since I was a kid I’ve been sitting in assemblies about gun violence because of the Columbine shooting so close to us, and nothing has changed since then.”
This was the first time in UHS history that a protest of this size took place on school grounds.