Suzanne Hanvey may be “just” a freshman, but she is not waiting around for adults to figure out what to do in the wake of Florida’s deadly school shootings.
She and students attending at least five Maine high schools plan to walk out of school for 17 minutes March 14, one minute for each person who died last week.
The walkout, planned for exactly a month after the Valentine’s Day shootings, is part of a nationwide, student-led series of protests, spurred by passionate calls for gun control from student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I want change now,” said Hanvey, a 14-year-old who attends Thornton Academy in Saco. “I’m not going to wait for it. I’m not going to wait for some adult to make change.”
The Maine students have launched online invitations to fellow students to join them in the walkout, part of a broad movement spearheaded by a spinoff of the Women’s March called Youth Empower. Several students said they got the idea from Women’s March social media accounts and seeing announcements about the protest, marked with an “#enough” hashtag online.
Students in Florida, who on Tuesday took a bus to the statehouse to protest school violence, have also been using the #neveragain hashtag to spread the word.
“So many people are just so angry about all the things that are going on politically, and most people don’t feel like there is something they can do to make a change,” said Tasha Hipple, a freshman at Casco Bay High School in Portland, who is organizing a walkout there.
“And maybe me marching out of school won’t make a change, but seeing all these students nationwide, all walking out? I think that will actually make a change.”
Walkouts are also planned by students at Brunswick High School, Westbrook High School and Kennebunk High School.
“We’re scared,” said 17-year-old Molly Hetzel, who is organizing a walkout at Kennebunk High School. “We go to school every day. And every day there’s a chance the shooter could be at our school. That is a very real threat.
“We want to bring awareness to the issue and get Congress to make a change in the way they do background checks,” she said.
The Florida students were traveling by bus Tuesday for a rally at the Capitol in Tallahassee on Wednesday. U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., said on ABC’s “This Week” that he commends the students for their activism.
“We’ve kind of inherited this world of binary choices where we either have to repeal the Second Amendment or have no gun safety regulations whatsoever, and younger generations of Americans don’t see the world that way,” Curbelo said.
Since the shooting, students have been using social media and traditional media interviews to call out politicians and the National Rifle Association.
The alleged gunman in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, carried an assault-style rifle into the school on Valentine’s Day and opened fire. He was known to be a risk for violence and state officials knew he intended to buy a gun.
One student who survived the shooting vowed not to return to class until gun laws change.
And while adults are remarking on how many students are speaking out this time, the students sense the shift as well.
“I think it’s very different having this come from students,” Hetzel said. “It’s a different attitude. It’s a different kind of change.”
The Florida shooting has raised questions about how Maine schools and officials respond to a threat, and how often those threats occur.
Last week, five different Maine schools responded to threats, ranging from a student talking about “shooting up the school” on social media to a bomb threat, and four students were charged with terrorizing.
Under state law, school officials must notify local police if there is a threat at a school. If it is a bomb threat, they must also notify the Maine Department of Education.
Likewise, if local police learn of a threat to a school, they must notify the superintendent, a DOE spokeswoman said.
As of last week, 12 school districts have reported bomb threats to the department in 2018, according to spokeswoman Rachel Paling, noting that the data are for the number of districts reporting threats, not the number of actual bomb threats.
Last year, there were 14 districts reporting bomb threats, compared to 18 in 2016 and fewer than 10 in 2015.
On a statewide level, there is no requirement to collect data on threats against schools that are not bomb threats.
The Maine Information and Analysis Center, known also as the Fusion Center, was created post-9/11 to coordinate between agencies on a wide range of threats. But school and local police officials are not legally required to report school-related threats to the center, according to Maine State Police spokesman Steven McCausland.
McCausland said the center does get information about school threats, usually from local police or schools, and sometimes from media reports, but the data are not considered complete since there is no requirement to report.
Suzanne Hanvey, a 14-year-old freshman at Thornton Academy in Saco, is organizing a school walkout for March 14 to protest school shootings and demand change. The walkout, planned for exactly a month after the Valentine’s Day shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is part of a nationwide, student-led series of protests. (Photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)