Sara Kahn was moved by the sight of so many students spilling out of classrooms and into the La Cañada High School quad at 10 a.m. Wednesday. They arrived in bunches, some toting signs, the majority of them wearing orange, the color a symbol of what hunters wear to protect themselves from being shot at by other hunters.
“Watching all these kids start coming out of class — wow!” the senior said on an emotional day at the school. “I’m impressed. I knew kids would do it, but it’s amazing seeing them come in herds.”
Superintendent Wendy Sinnette was impressed, too: “It was respectful and it was just strong.”
Altogether, a few hundred La Cañada High School students got to their feet and joined in a nationwide student walkout one month after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
As planned, the 17-minute walkout began at 10 a.m., with the beginning of break (which was modified from its typical 10:14 a.m. start).
“The administration has been really supportive,” senior Faith Florez said. “They moved break so this event could basically be sanctioned without students receiving truancies or absences from their classes.”
There was a minute of silence for the victims of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, as well as a pair of rousing speeches: “The community of Parkland was once considered a proud community of affluence and safety,” Ethan Crane said, his voice carrying by way of a bullhorn. “And some might say the same about our own community … that doesn’t mean it can’t and won’t happen here!”
There were chants — “This is what democracy looks like!” Ava Salzman performed Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”
And there was a voter registration station and $11 ticket reservations for a seat on a bus to downtown L.A. on March 24 for the March for Our Lives event. Dozens of students signed a poster encouraging politicians to advance gun control legislation.
There also was a staid counter-protest by five boys facing the crowd and holding aloft signs that read: “Here to save lives, I love the 2nd Amendment.”
“Our message is the protection and support of the Second Amendment,” said Max Fan, a sophomore. “We agree on the importance of safety and we want school shootings to end. But we have a different way of accomplishing that.”
There also was a noticeable amount of security, including private security and three representatives from the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, Capt. Chris Blasnek among them.
Still, beneath crisp, clear skies, students said they felt on edge Wednesday because of rumors that had circulated about a couple of their peers threatening to target the walkout.
“I’ve never seen so few kids show up to school before,” Kahn said. “A lot of parents pulled their kids out of school today.”
But Sinnette said the campus faced no threat.
“Things are safe,” she said. “When I say there are no active or credible threats that currently exist, it’s the truth.
“The rumor mill has been horrific,” Sinnette added, noting that she perceives social media amplifying concerns unnecessarily. “There have been a couple of issues and they have been dealt with expeditiously and thoroughly and to the full extent of our ability and our responsibility to the community. It does service to no one to escalate things through rumor and gossip.”
That easily spread unease only made the walkout more important, Kahn said.
“It proves that kids aren’t showing up because they’re scared,” she said. “So obviously something needs to be done.”
On Wednesday, for many at LCHS, that thing was to join students across the nation in a walkout.
“This was a chance for students to have real dialogue beyond the sort of quips that we see in social media,” Principal Ian McFeat said. “These students are thoughtful and they’re deep and they’re willing to engage in meaningful conversation.”