Opinions differ following student-led ‘walkout’ at ESJH

Published 12:14 am Saturday, March 17, 2018

Division was apparent during East St. John High School’s National Walkout Day assembly, an event aimed to unify the student body by honoring the 17 lives lost during the Parkland, Fla., shooting while continuing discussions on gun and school safety.

A large group of students listened intently to the prayer, song and presentation, while others talked loudly with friends.

Those discussing the walkout at East St. John High include Corey Samuel, from left, Jada Nevers, principal Tabari SImon, Shania Campbell, Kayla Mizell and Austin Scioneaux.

Students invested in the event were further divided over the purpose and scope of a walkout, with a sector feeling silenced by their request for peaceful protest taking the form of an assembly.

Upon leaving the gym at 10:17 a.m., several students took to the breezeway to hold up signs speaking on gun violence and recognizing the 17 students who lost their lives.

Roland Henderson and JaQuan Wilson display the “rest In peace” sign in honor of the student victims from Florida.

Student Council member Corey Samuel said the student body overlooked the big picture while agonizing over fine details.

“There was so much controversy around it and how it was done that I felt we lost sight of exactly what we were all here for,” Samuel said.

“We should have been respectful enough to be quiet while people were praying, speaking and singing. People lost a bit of that morality. The point is 17 kids died at school, and it could have been you.”

Local Walkout Day plans began when student council member Jaylin Darensbourg reached out to Superintendent Kevin George, explaining how he felt unsafe at school in light of recent threats.

George responded with a suggestion to meet with faculty and organize an event for students to let their voices be heard.

Meanwhile, principal Tabari Simon followed the news and learned the importance of Walkout Day to students across the country.

He said the term walkout is sometimes misconstrued, and at its core, its purpose is to unify a group of people for a cause.

Holding the assembly in the gym was a safety precaution because of the number of students present and the polarizing topics up for discussion, according to Simon.

“As a principal, one of my many hats is to make sure my kids are safe,” Simon said. “We wanted it to be organized and not chaotic, because that could make it unsafe. It’s not an adult-against-kid thing.

“It’s about loving all these people and not wanting anything to happen to them.”

Darensbourg, the primary speaker for the event, said he’s proud of himself and others who walked out after the assembly to represent the people who can no longer talk, while also advocating for change.

“Just know this wasn’t the end,” Darensbourg said. “This was just the beginning.”

The 17 young people who were killed did not die in vain, according to Samuel. He said East St. John High and other local schools are getting back on track with lockdown drills and other precautionary measures previously overlooked.

Hindsight is 20/20, and now it is up to each community to do better and prevent future tragedies, student council member Austin Scioneaux said.

“Humans don’t tend to get involved with things until something bad happens,” Scioneaux said.

“There’s always going to be trial and error and adjustment in whatever we do. We want to see East St. John become a bigger and better place. Take (Wednesday’s) assembly as an example; we’ll continue to improve and make things better.”

Freshman Jada Nevers said she feels safe and is hopeful about the rest of her high school career.

“What happened in Florida really woke people up, and we took action as quickly as we could,” Nevers said. “When I become a senior, it’s going to be 10 times safer here because we’re taking care of it now.”

Student council members ask the public to take safety seriously. Samuel and Scioneaux said nothing would ever get accomplished if people didn’t exercise their right to free speech.

“Don’t think this is just another story in the newspaper,” Scioneaux said. “This is serious, and something has to change.”

Samuel added, “Go to your politicians. Your voice matters.”

The student council is planning a balloon release ceremony on the softball field for the next National Walkout Day, to be recognized on April 20.