Marin students mobilize against gun violence
When students in Katherine Sanford’s sixth- and seventh-grade social studies class at Lagunitas Middle School sent individual emails Feb. 15 to Rep. Jared Huffman, they had no idea he would respond two weeks later with an in-person visit.
“It was the day after the Parkland shootings,” Sanford recounted Thursday about the origin of the emails, as more than 125 fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders filed in for Huffman’s appearance in the school gymnasium off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in West Marin.
“My sixth-graders were nervous about the shootings in Florida,” Sanford said. “I told them that, in a democracy, what we do is reach out to our lawmakers — so they emailed Huffman.”
The stop on Thursday by Huffman, D-San Rafael, who spent more than an hour answering students’ questions on gun control, California regulations, efforts to ban assault weapons and the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution, was one of a slew of activities planned throughout Marin schools — and across the state and nation — to strengthen school safety and protest gun violence in the wake of the Parkland shootings.
At 10 a.m. on March 14, Marin students at all levels are expected to join schools across the U.S. in the National School Walkout. The walkout is expected to last 17 minutes in tribute to the 17 people killed in the Parkland shootings.
“Hundreds of students and teachers will fill Sir Francis Drake Boulevard,” said Lilly Goodyear, a student at Sir Francis Drake High School in San Anselmo.
Tamalpais Union High School District Superintendent David Yoshihara said in an email that Sir Francis Drake and all the other high schools in the district “will be involved on March 14 in some fashion.”
“We are working with our principals on consistency in how we support the freedom of speech expressed by our students,” Yoshihara said.
At Kent Middle School, meanwhile, plans are in place for a “17 speeches in 17 minutes” event on March 14 with music and a flash mob performance at the school lunch plaza off of College Avenue in Kentfield, said Principal Skip Kniesche.
“We’re 100 percent supportive,” Kniesche said of the gathering, proposed by seventh-graders Gemma Favaloro and Izzy Gonzales. “I just feel it’s important to give our kids voices, because they’re the next generation of voters and leaders — I’m proud of them for coming forward like this.”
Even before the March 14 event, Marin teachers and staff are participating in active shooter training classes Friday and Monday offered by Marin County Office of Education in conjunction with area police.
“We have a meeting scheduled with our law enforcement partners and superintendents on March 7 to talk about how we keep kids safe during the walkouts and hopefully developing a countywide protocol,” Mary Jane Burke, Marin superintendent of schools, said in an email.
GUN CONTROL BILLS
Huffman, meanwhile, on Thursday told Lagunitas Middle School students that he is backing bills to ban the sale of assault rifles and semiautomatic weapons, supports closing loopholes in the background checks process, wants to raise the age for gun sales to 21 nationally and opposes the standardization of concealed carry regulations.
While some of those gun control measures are already in place in California, he said there needs to be stronger measures across the country.
“We need a national standard,” Huffman told the group. He called President Donald Trump’s idea to arm teachers “stupid.”
“I don’t know which of your teachers you’d like to see packing heat as they try to teach you English or math, reading or science,” Huffman said. “I think about my kids’ schools, and my kids have amazing, great teachers, but I don’t want any of them to have guns — it’s a truly stupid idea.” He said the potential for accidents and “unintended consequences” was too great.
Huffman also said the Parkland shootings have mobilized students in a way that has not happened before.
“We’re in a moment in this country right now where we may just have an opportunity to push some changes that many of us thought wouldn’t have been possible even just a few weeks ago,” Huffman said.
Huffman also counseled the students to be sure to report any signs that a fellow student or person in the community is disturbed or threatening to fellow students or himself — and to make sure students who are depressed don’t isolate themselves.
“There’s something about what happened in Parkland, Florida, that seems to have changed the conversation, in media, in Congress and in state capitols around the country,” he said. “I think the difference is not necessarily what happened in that terrible mass shooting — the difference is how young people responded to it.”
Also Thursday, officials from California colleges and universities said they would support their students who choose to participate in the March 14 walkout.
“Peaceful participation in demonstrations will have no impact on applicants for admission to California State University campuses,” said California State University Chancellor Timothy P. White in a statement responding to a news release from Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. “As a university, we encourage the peaceful exchange of diverse viewpoints and are committed to free speech rights.”
LEVEL OF FEAR
Sanford, meanwhile, said Thursday the emails her students sent show the level of fear that has been high since Feb. 14 — and she hoped the event with Huffman at the school would offer some calm.
“My name is Kaia Yudice,” one student wrote in her email to Huffman. “I am in sixth grade at Lagunitas Middle School in your district.
“I am very scared and concerned about the recent school shooting in Florida on Valentine’s Day,” she said. “The past weeks, I have been very scared just knowing that these shootings have been happening around the USA and the rest of the world. ...As an 11-year-old at school, I don’t want to be worried that someone will come and kill me and the people I love.”
Lagunitas students on Thursday said they felt safer and reassured by Huffman’s visit.
“I thought it was really helpful for him to come in, because we got to ask a lot of questions and we got really good answers,” said Lila Fox, a fifth-grader in teacher Anita Collison’s class, after Huffman’s visit. “I’m feeling a lot better and there’s more hope that he’ll help make change.”