Maui students to join March 14 walkout

Maui High senior John Fabella examines a robot Tuesday afternoon in the auto classroom. Fabella is one of hundreds of Maui County students planning to walk out of classrooms for 17 minutes on March 14 to recognize the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting last month. • The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Maui County high school students are planning to walk out of class one month to the day after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting, as part of a nationwide demonstration against gun violence.

All of the county’s major public and private high schools were contacted by The Maui News on Tuesday and Wednesday and nearly all that responded confirmed plans to participate in the March 14 walkout. Many schools have designated a specific gathering place for the demonstration that begins at 10 a.m. and will last 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people killed in the shooting.

“It’s an issue that obviously needs to be combatted and definitely not one that we can put aside,” Haleakala Waldorf senior Gita Tucker said. “It is a pressing issue, and we see that not a lot of legislators are doing anything to prevent it. I think it’s really important that students and young people are getting involved.”

While many schools are making special accommodations for students who walk out, Haleakala Waldorf decided Wednesday to cancel classes altogether and bring in nonviolent communication experts to talk to students.

“Young people want to be involved in the political process,” Tucker said. “We do have a voice, and we want to be heard. We are the future, and so legislators should start listening to what we want our future to be.

“I think this is a really amazing time right now for students and for politics in general because everybody is getting involved.”

Baldwin and Maui High administrators have met with groups of students to help coordinate the walkout and have supported their right to speak out. Maui High plans to have its walkout during recess, which will be extended beyond the normal 15 minutes.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Maui High Principal Jamie Yap said Tuesday. “I’m excited about it, and we’re in support of it. We don’t want kids leaving the campus, of course, we just want this to be done in an orderly safe fashion.

“We know we could’ve been the victims in this. It could’ve been any high school.”

State Department of Education Superintendent Christina Kishimoto wrote a letter Friday to public school parents and guardians addressing how schools could handle the walkouts. Kishimoto supported students’ “constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free expression,” but noted that disorderly conduct that disrupts school operations is unacceptable. Students who leave school will be marked with an unexcused tardy or absence.

“What we hope to gain from these experiences are student voices that help to shape how we can better design schools with safety in mind,” Kishimoto wrote.

Maui High senior John Fabella initially approached administrators about the walkout and announced his plans during a school assembly. He cited a personal experience chaperoning dozens of Maui Waena Intermediate School students during a digital media competition in Atlanta two years ago as his motivation.

“We were walking to the vans and heard one gunshot, then two more,” Fabella recalled. “A couple people started running down the street, and we were like ‘Oh, snap. What was that?’ My adviser opened the door, and we started shoving people inside the van. We’re all like, ‘Hey kids go in the car. Stay quiet and go low.’ ”

Fabella said he does not see the walkout as a protest, but as a memorial for the victims. He also is not against people owning guns but feels changes are needed in the process of obtaining guns.

“Personally, I feel like it’s still a right for everyone to hold a gun and be able to protect yourself, but the one thing I don’t understand is how do people with unstable backgrounds and unstable minds get ahold of it,” he said.

Lanai junior Lanaya Hawkins said her community service class plans to make posters for her school’s walkout, while the interpretation class will give speeches. She could not recall the last time students held a demonstration during the school day, but she was eager to join.

“Right away I wanted to participate in that because in my opinion enough is enough,” Hawkins said. “I don’t want more school shootings to happen just because someone won’t take control over gun laws.”

Kamehameha Schools Maui senior Arron Vincent, who is class president, said teachers have been supportive of students wanting to participate in the protest. The school practices safety and lockdown procedures, but he still could not imagine what it would be like to have an active shooter on campus.

“If that were to happen here it would shock us all,” Vincent said. “It would hit us deeply, and since we’re such a small school we know everyone.”

While some students are eager to participate, some are worried about the consequences.

Molokai senior Tabitha Fernandez is leading her school’s walkout and has talked to several classes about the Florida shooting and gun violence in America. She said students have expressed fear of being penalized by teachers if they participate in the demonstration.

Despite their fears, more than 90 percent of the students in the classes she has spoken to plan to participate, she said.

“These are a bunch of students who came out saying: ‘We’ll go no matter the consequences.’ ” Fernandez said. “That was honestly very empowering.”

Fernandez said she initially got involved with the Florida shooting walkout because of her senior project on the Columbine school shooting in Colorado in 1999 that left 15 dead. She said the two shootings are slightly different, but the perpetrators exhibit the same telltale signs.

“I really want awareness to come out of it and for everyone to be more educated on what we’re fighting for, what’s going on in the world and how to tell when someone needs help,” she said. “I’m hoping they’ll pass this knowledge down to family and friends and create a web of people who know what to do.”

Seabury Hall senior Veronica Winham was disappointed she would not be able to participate in the March 14 walkout because it falls during her school’s spring break. However, she plans to join Maui residents for the national March For Our Lives event at UH-Maui College on March 24. The nationwide event aims to end gun violence and mass shootings in schools.

“It definitely opened my eyes to what’s been going on around the country,” Winham said of the Florida shooting. “It’s one of so many that have happened this year alone. Hearing about that and reading what those kids said in the news, I just wanted to help them and support them even from Maui.”

Since the Parkland shooting, schools nationwide and in Hawaii have received threats, state DOE officials have said. Seabury Hall also was the subject of a threat by a former alumnus, who emailed and called the school multiple times, Headmaster Sarah Bakhiet said.

“We’ve contacted authorities and reported him,” Bakhiet said of the man who lives in California. “We believe it’s been handled both on the Mainland and Maui. We’re very happy with the outcome, and he’s being monitored very closely in case anything continues, but there’s no immediate threat to the school.”

Bakhiet said faculty and staff have gone through a series of drills with the Maui Police Department and plan to have active-shooter training later this month. She said her primary concern is the safety of students and that the school is up to date on the best practices for campus security.

“I think all schools across the nation are now on heightened alert because of everything that’s been happening,” she said. “It’s so unfortunate and tragic that these things are happening, but we can’t afford to sit back.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.