Operation Ground Zero: Kennedy High is at the Forefront of the Gun Debate
By Dominic J Larsen, News Editor
The number of school shootings has dramatically skyrocketed during the short lived twenty-first century, leading many on both sides of the aisle and folks from all walks of American life to look for solutions in order to prevent these senseless, perverted acts of violence.
Following the horrific attack in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, in which 17 students were murdered by a former classmate, students across the country organized a national walkout in order to protest gun violence. In the hopes of assisting students express their opinions, while also curbing the disruption of instructional time, SCUSD worked with the schools to set up times in which students could speak their minds.
In cooperation with Congresswoman Matsui’s Office, the Kennedy administration worked to plan a student town hall in which students and members of the neighborhood could speak directly to their elected officials on the topic of gun violence prevention.
The meeting on the afternoon of March 9 in the campus auditorium with Rep. Matsui, SCUSD Superintendent Jorge Aguilar, and school board member Darrel Woo in attendance. These officials spoke on the subject of securing schools in the wake of shootings, with student speaker senior Malissa Bordeaux adding her remarks as well. Also sharing their views during the meeting via Skype were two students from high school students from Parkland, Florida.
Though the conference of elected officials and neighborhood elements was meant to yield results leading in a positive direction, the community was still consumed with fear of a possible school shooting.
The evening of Tuesday, March 13, the Kennedy administration informed families that a shooting threat had been made against one of the school’s students. While the threat was made specifically to only one Kennedy student and their sibling at Cal Middle School, both schools felt it necessary to alert to all families and faculty members due to the current climate around guns in our society.
Prior to the statements released by both Kennedy and Cal, the vast majority of both student bodies had been informed of the threats sent through text messages. The earliest reports of students being aware of the threatened shooting occur around 7 pm.
A screenshot of the initial text message began to circulate social media platforms, such as Snapchat and Instagram, with the Kennedy administration officially releasing a statement to the campus at 9:47 pm in an email from the principal.
In a message sent out by Kennedy principal, David Van Natten, it was disclosed that once the police had been notified of the threats, two law enforcement agencies began to conduct investigations surrounding the claims. Alongside the investigations, the presence of law enforcement increased on campus in order to safeguard the security of the school. Speaking directly to students, Van Natten issued the advice “As a reminder, if you ever witness any suspicious activity please report it immediately to the police department by calling (916) 264-5471, or dialing 9-1-1 in case of an emergency.”
Following the eventful night of the 13th, the Kennedy campus found itself slim on student attendance. Even though the student body had planned a walkout, in accordance to the guidelines laid out in a letter sent out by the administration, to protest gun violence, a number of students did not show for concern for their safety and well-being.
“It’s something to talk about. The first threat took place on the day we were supposed to unite against gun violence, specifically in schools, but, it was still a good turnout despite the fear it already encouraged. Any students who stayed and participated in the march to show that we aren’t gonna stop fighting. Florida really was the last straw,” professed senior Marcelina “Marci” Ayana when questioned on her support for the class walkout.
Echoing the comments of his classmate, David Yu, another senior, stated, “One thing that struck a chord with me was that a lot of people had known about the shooter threat before hand and came to school anyways. It takes a lot of bravery to stand up for what you believe in even when you think that you might be harmed doing it.”
The walkout, which lasted for 17 minutes to memorialize the 17 lives lost during the Stoneman Douglas shooting, started at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14. Students and teachers that choose to participate exited their classrooms and met with the other protesters until they converged out in front of the school. Upon meeting, the student body was directed by senior Billy Hernandez on the form the protest would take.
Once gathered and instructed, the group, consisting of students and teachers, reentered the campus and marched around the rim of the quad. A number of participants carried signs that they had crafted in the days leading up to the march. Returning to the front entrance of the campus, the group of protesters engaged in listening to a few words of reassurance offered by student speaker, senior Malissa Bordeaux.
Even with low attendance, not all of the students that came to school participated in the walkout. Some attended school but did not join in the walkout, fearing that if a shooting did occur, it would happen with the all of the student body congregated together. Some students with more conservative ideals chose not to partake in the demonstrations, as they wanted to remember the lives lost and stand against gun violence without protesting their gun rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.
However not all students that came to school on Wednesday, March 14 came with positive intentions. The Kennedy Administration notified families that an unnamed student was arrested for the possession of a firearm on campus. The individual reportedly brought a BB gun to school, and on the bus to school.
In an official email from the Kennedy administration to the parents of students, Principal Van Natten clearly laid out the school’s policy on weapons on campus, “Please remind your students that weapons of any kind are strictly prohibited on our campus and that any student found in possession of a weapon will face consequences up to expulsion and arrest.”