Students walk out in protest against gun violence, following the Parkland, Florida school shooting, at William H. Taft High School.
Students at William H. Taft High School walk out of classrooms to protest gun violence. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

At campus events across San Antonio, students walked out of their classrooms and gathered Friday to protest gun violence in the latest upswell of student activism following the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died.

The protests were coordinated as part of a national effort by students to draw attention to gun violence, particularly school shootings. Students walked out at 10 a.m., gathered outdoors or elsewhere on school grounds, then eventually returned to class.

At John Jay High School, on San Antonio’s Westside, hundreds of students gathered on the football field, holding peace signs in the air and carrying signs.

At W.H. Taft High School in Northwest San Antonio, dozens of students encircled student speakers in front of the school building. Over a loudspeaker, individual students led chants and gave speeches that called out President Donald Trump and other elected officials for what they view as lax gun policies as school administrators patrolled the campus to make sure non-students stayed off school property.

About 200 students gathered in a parking lot at William J. Brennan High School and chanted, “No more silence! End the violence!” before re-entering the classrooms for the rest of the day’s classes.

Elsewhere, smaller numbers of students staged their own protests. At Claudia Taylor Johnson High School on the far Northside, about 40 students walked out of the classroom, several wearing orange shirts that read “Never Again.”

Chabriely Rivera-Rolden, a senior at Claudia Taylor Johnson High School, participates in a protest against gun violence Friday morning.
Chabriely Rivera-Rolden, a senior at Claudia Taylor Johnson High School, participates in a protest against gun violence Friday morning. Credit: Courtesy / Emma Cook

At BASIS San Antonio Shavano Campus, about 20 students lined a street across from campus, holding signs protesting gun violence.

Organizers of the walkout at Brennan worried before Friday’s event that not many students would show up, but they comforted one another with the idea that the people who truly cared would show up.

“We want the people who want to be there,” senior Joan Falope said. “This isn’t a gathering, this is a walkout.”

For weeks, a core group of passionate Brennan students met to arrange the logistics of the event.

Student organizer Hector Mendez said students set up meetings with high school administrators to accommodate their concerns, mainly about student safety and attendance. Organizers agreed to execute the walkout after state attendance data was taken so the school wouldn’t lose any money. They set up a QR code that students could scan in and out with so administrators would know where the missing students went.

On Thursday night, the group gathered to check off the final items on their list: where the students would walk, the number of signs, and the order of speakers.

A walkout was organized at William J. Brennan High School.
Students gather at William J. Brennan High School on Friday morning after walking out of their classrooms. Credit: Courtesy / Hector Mendez

One of the speakers, senior Martha Leal, said she got involved in planning the walkout because she felt that lending her voice to the cause could make a real impact. After seeing gun violence in her own community – a friend had been present at a February shooting of four at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant – Leal felt the issue had personal significance.

Senior Rae’ Jaenicke Boisley said she, too, knows the effects of gun violence from her own experience.

Boisley came to San Antonio after Hurricane Katrina devestated her hometown of New Orleans. Many of her family members remained in Louisiana, and Boisley said gun violence is commonplace for them. Her uncle was killed in a shooting over a disagreement about tires at a Walmart.

“It seems like everyday there is a shooting there,” she said.

Falope said she felt like the Parkland shooting also felt more personal because of the age of the victims.

“It is crazy to think that any of those victims could have been us,” she said. “There comes a time when you have to be fed up with these conditions.”

Junior Jasmine Perez said after the Parkland shooting, one of her teachers bought her own evacuation ladder and started running safety drills in her classroom.

After the walkout, Perez and fellow organizer Rea Arce plan to form a “Make the World A Better Place” club to continue activism on campus.

Some of the students who participated in the protests said they are more energized to  exercise their voting rights. Having turned 18, Mendez voted in the March primary elections, and wanted to include voter registration in the Friday event.

“Now that I’m 18, I’m ready to go further and actually vote,” he said.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.