CONWAY — Hundreds of students walked out of class and marched with signs outside Kennett High School in Conway on Friday morning to protest gun violence in the wake of the school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers at Robb Elementary School.

Friday was an early release day for teacher workshops at Kennett and classes were scheduled to end at 11:30 a.m.

At 9:30 a.m. a huge contingent of students led by a senior Jack Martin exited the school out the back door, Once outside, Martin gave a brief speech and proceeded to lead the students, some of whom carried signs, clockwise around the school before having a moment of silence and returning to class.

Martin, who is on the student council, has been among a group of students pushing to liberalize the dress code at the school.

The walkout had approvals from Principal Kevin Carpenter and SAU 9 Superintendent Kevin Richard, who were on hand for the event Also there were Conway Fire Chief Steve Solomon, Conway Police Chief Chris Mattei and Conway Police Lt. Suzanne Kelley-Scott.

In brief remarks, Martin said the intent was to honor the fallen and to give attendees a chance to appreciate their lives. He called the Uvalde tragedy preventable. He said the shooter was able to buy two “assault rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammo” even though in Texas one must be 21 to have a handgun.

“The sale of deadly assault rifles like these make the National Rifle Association the most money. And in turn, the NRA pays off half the politicians in this country to make sure that nothing changes, even when the majority of Americans support common sense laws that could, at the very least, help prevent children from continuing to die at a place where they’re supposed to feel safe.”

The senior added that the Kennett students were joining with thousands of other students around the nation who were doing the same.

Martin said when the Parkland shooting happened (in 2018), there was an announcement over the intercom and students were encouraged to seek a guidance counselor if needed. This time, there was an email to parents.

“I know we live in a small community,” said Martin. “And some people might say what we’re doing isn’t going to change anything. But at least we’re doing something and we’re not just going along with our day and pretending like nothing happened.”

Martin plans to study political science at George Washington University. He said he started organizing the rally late Wednesday, making fliers and putting them on vehicles as well as posting on social media. Although it was an unsanctioned event at first, Martin said he was able to get Carpenter’s blessing.

During the protest, KHS junior McKayla Dockham questioned why an 18-year-old was allowed to buy assault rifles. “When children aren’t safe anymore, that’s where there’s a problem,” she said.

Asked what sorts of reforms they would like to see, students responded with ideas such as increasing the age for rifle possession, red flag laws and universal background checks. They said there also needs to be more resources for mental health.

A few students told the Sun they didn’t want guns completely banned but at least better regulated so they could feel safe in school.

“I’m a pretty staunch Second Amendment supporter but I still think that there needs to be some sort of change,” said junior Devon Glackin. “These shootings still happen. Children are dying, and we still as a country can’t just rally together and fight this ... it feels like nothing’s going to change.”

A junior who identified herself as Kat said protests are important because she didn’t want life to just go back to normal after the Texas shootings.

Following the shootings, Texas law enforcement were criticized for their slow response.

The Sun asked Mattei how Conway police would respond.

“We train our officers to enter the building immediately upon arrival, regardless of how many officers initially arrive on scene,” Mattei said by email.

“The goal is to locate and engage the threat as soon as possible as every second counts in situations involving a violent intruder. We are also in the process of teaching the SAU 9 faculty and staff how to better prepare and respond to this type of threat.”

Richard said it’s time to put politics aside and come up with solutions.

“It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not a political issue. It’s a societal issue,” said Richard. “Educators, we take an oath to protect these kids. And parents drop them off, they want their kids to be safe, we need to do everything we can to work together to make that happen.”

Carpenter added: “We absolutely want to have the students’ voice heard about this, and anyone that’s in a position to do anything to help bring about change that could prevent any of this senseless violence, we’re asking them to help out.

“This is the students doing their piece, and we’re trying to do our piece by supporting them. ... And then anyone else that can do anything, anyone who’s a legislator, anything like that, we just ask that they all try and do their piece,” Carpenter said.

(1) comment

NHCOOS

Guns don't kill people, people kill people.

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