Update: Teens from More Than Two Dozen Schools in Montgomery County Plan D.C. March

Students will observe 17 minutes of silence at White House in memory of Parkland victims


Montgomery County students marched on D.C. last month to advocate for stricter gun control laws.

Bethany Rodgers

Updated 10:25 a.m. Tuesday: Montgomery County students representing more than 25 high schools are planning to march on D.C. on Wednesday to remember the Parkland victims and press the nation’s leaders to pass stronger gun control laws. 

The rally will be part of a national school walkout, an event that will last for 17 minutes to represent each victim lost in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. While most students in the U.S. will participate by walking out of their schools at 10 a.m., teens in Montgomery County have decided to observe their 17 minutes of silence outside the White House.

“We want this to get some national attention,” said Daniel Gelillo, a student organizer who attends Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville. “By doing this in D.C., lawmakers will see that it’s a national movement.”

Gelillo said students across the county have spent hours planning the Wednesday rally. The involved schools include Montgomery Blair, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Walt Whitman, Thomas S. Wootton, Walter Johnson, Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Rockville high schools and some private schools, according to a list the students posted on Twitter.

Most of the students are planning to meet at the White House for a period of silence beginning at 10 a.m. and then march to the U.S. Capitol for a rally, Gelillo said. Students from a few schools will miss the march and meet up with the others at the Capitol, he said.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin will be speaking with the students during the rally, the congressman’s office confirmed.

Gelillo said he expects a bigger crowd for this rally than that attending last month’s demonstration, when an estimated 1,300 teens left their county high schools and headed to D.C. to protest about the need for stronger gun control.

Joserin Cabrera, a junior at James Hubert Blake High School, said during the 17 minutes of quiet, she'll be thinking about the victims in the Florida attack and the children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.

"Seventeen minutes is not enough. It won't bring them back, and it's sad that it won't, but at least we're making a point," she said.

Montgomery County Public Schools has discouraged students from leaving campus to protest, and a school system spokeswoman said Monday teens who go to D.C. for the walkout will receive unexcused absences.

"It’s not about punishing students. It’s just about reminding them that yes, they have a voice, but let’s do it in the safest way possible,” spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said.

Onijala said principals are encouraging students to participate in on-campus activities, such as marching around the school building, making signs, holding moments of silence or walking onto sports fields.

“I think the message is that we support the students’ right to assemble, to protest. ... But we want to ensure their safety, and we only have the resources to do that if they’re on school property,” she said.

Walter Johnson High School, for instance, is adjusting its bell schedule so students can observe 17 minutes of silence on campus.

Principal Jennifer Baker wrote in a message to the Bethesda school community that parents should talk to their children about the safe alternatives to leaving the Walter Johnson property.

Renay Johnson, principal at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, said she's working to plan an alternative for her students, too.

"We respect and support the right of our students to advocate for causes that are important to them," she wrote Monday in a letter to parents. "We understand that students may be feeling increased anxiety, fear and anger about this issue and we want you to know that we have staff and resources in place to support our students as they process what is happening in the world around them."

Superintendent Jack Smith on Monday released a statement to address the planned march, saying he appreciates the desire to stand up for a cause.

"While we do support student advocacy, we want students who choose to engage in the civic process to do so while at school, in a learning environment that is supportive and safe," he wrote in the message.

Gelillo said he’s not concerned about the potential consequences of missing school to join the demonstration.

“This is something that’s bigger than my attendance record. People are dying, and ... I’m thinking about the greater good here,” he said.

However, some students are hoping to avoid unexcused absences by turning in permission slips from their parents in advance of Wednesday's demonstration.

Smith wrote in his message to the community that students who leave school outside the designated time would be getting an unexcused absence.

The stakes are higher this time for student-athletes, who will be unable to participate Wednesday in practices or scrimmages for spring sports teams if they have an unexcused absence that day, according to MCPS rules.

Bethany Rodgers can be reached at bethany.rodgers@bethesdamagazine.com.

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