The kids aren’t done.
Maine students walked out of class Thursday morning, echoing calls to end gun violence that went up from protests at schools across the country Wednesday.
Young people from across the state whose Wednesday classes were canceled by this week’s rolling blizzard joined the thousands of American students who are demanding action in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Florida last month.
At Portland’s Casco Bay High School more than 100 students left class for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Up the coast in Belfast, demonstrators read the names of the dead at a rally downtown and called for assault rifle bans as the First Church rang its bells.
“Although we couldn’t walk out yesterday, we’re showing that we’re not giving up,” Tasha Hipple, a 14-year-old Casco Bay freshman, told the crowd outside her school. “If you want to fall asleep knowing that you will survive school the next day, then you need to shout.”
Students in Freeport, Marshwood, York and Yarmouth high schools joined in the national protest Wednesday, while organizers at other Maine schools postponed. Yet more protests are set to come, with Bangor area schools expected to stage their walkouts Friday.
At Cape Elizabeth High School, a student performed a rendition of the Andra Day song “Rise Up” on piano before her classmates read short biographies of each of the people killed in the Parkland, Florida, shooting.
“Our ultimate goal is to empower students,” Cape Elizabeth senior Christie Gillies, 18, told the Bangor Daily News. “Even if you can’t vote, you can still do something. You can use your voice to fight for our lives and stand with students across the country.”
Like the country, Maine is divided on how to address gun violence — which remains a rarity here relative to other states.
In 2016, Mainers narrowly voted down a ballot initiative to expand background checks, with much of the funding for and against the measure coming from outside groups, including a gun control advocacy group bankrolled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the National Rifle Association.
Schools around the state likewise took different positions on student walkouts.
Tasha Hipple, a 14-year-old Casco Bay High School student, doesn't want her teachers given guns. pic.twitter.com/vcKrCUjLqj
— Jake Bleiberg (@JZBleiberg) March 15, 2018
In School Administrative District 13 in rural Somerset County, students and staff were initially told that they would face punishment if they left class, but the school administration eventually backed off that position.
In Lisbon, where discipline was also threatened, no students walked out Wednesday, according to a school administrator reached by phone. However, The Times Record reported that six students walked out of Lisbon High School on Thursday.
“As a 17-year-old, I don’t see myself as a child,” student Madison Smit told The Times Record. “I have my own opinions separate from my parents’ views. I’m worried about my own safety, and my peers’ safety. For them (the school district) to say they don’t want us to do it, it hurt.”
But universities across the country, including Maine’s public schools, have said they wouldn’t allow disciplinary records related to gun protests to influence their admissions decisions.
In Belfast, students postponed their walkout until next week, but the RSU 71 school board will host a meeting to discuss school safety on from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Belfast Area High School.
In left-leaning Portland, the public school administration permitted the walkout and hundreds of students filled the plaza in front of City Hall on Thursday morning, where they were greeted by city leaders including Mayor Ethan Strimling and Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, the Portland Press Herald reported.
At Casco Bay High School, students expressed frustration with the stagnant debate over gun violence and demanded more from political leaders — a call that’s gone up from young people around the country since the latest in a long line of mass shootings.
“The people in charge, the elders in charge right now, have control of our future and they’re kinda messing it up,” said 17-year-old junior Phoebe Kolbert.
BDN writers Nick McCrea, Callie Ferguson and Beth Brogan, and editor Seth Koenig contributed to this report.
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