HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - In less than a week, students across the country plan to walk out of class for 17 minutes to stand in solidarity with their peers in Parkland, Florida, and honor the 17 lives lost when a gunman opened fire.
"We're relentless in solving this, and that's why we are going to get it fixed," explained Maxwell Nardi, a senior at Douglas Freeman High School in Henrico County.
Nardi, along with Julia Pairaso, are among a large group of student leaders across the Commonwealth, planning and working with administrators and their peers to ensure their message is heard and understood on March 14 at 10 a.m.
"We're calling on our adults, on our legislators, that they need to be held accountable and they need to take action," said Nardi. "What happened in Parkland was because of our inaction - because every time a school shooting happened, we continuously did nothing."
The students say they are taking a stand against gun violence, asking that schools be a safe place where everyone can learn and teach without fear of tragedy striking at any time.
"We're the ones at risk of someone walking in unannounced and taking the lives of our friends," said Julia Pairaso. "It's an intersection of all of us and how we felt about this, and it's boosting our civic engagement to become a part of our world and our democracy."
In light of a threat made towards three Henrico County high schools, Pairaso and Nardi say students have had enough. They will continue to take a stand, not only against gun violence; they also say it is important that students are supported - especially those who may suffer or struggle with mental illness.
The ACLU of Virginia says they are standing by the students who plan to participate in school walkouts, and want them to know their rights.
"Yes, you have 1st Amendment rights, [but] if you're going to stage a walkout, there could be consequences because of what the principals or what the individual school systems deem as an interruption," said Charlie Schmidt with the ACLU of Virginia. "We hope they wouldn't punish students for walking out, but if they are going to go by their policies, [we ask] they follow policies, that they're not heavy-handed or picking certain students out."
Schmidt says on March 2, the ACLU of Virginia sent a letter to every public school superintendent in Virginia asking they support their students and educate them as they demonstrate their freedom of speech and right to protest.
"We would hope schools would not just obviously, at the bare minimum, respect the rights of students, but use this as a moment to engage, really educate students as to what their role is, and what their role can be to change the course of history in the United States," explained Schmidt.
Schools across the Commonwealth, and in the metro-Richmond area are preparing for a walkout.
Henrico County Schools wrote the following to families:
Chesterfield County Schools are preparing safe spaces for students that would include a student-led memorial service honoring those who lost their lives in the Florida shooting or a student-led assembly about the importance of school safety. Students who participate will receive an unexcused absence from class.
Richmond Public Schools shared the following with families:
They are encouraging students, families and RPS staff who want to demonstrate to participate in a "RPS Non-Violence March on the Capital" happening on Saturday, March 24 at 10 a.m. in correlation with the national march on that same day in Washington, D.C.
Hanover County Public Schools have not made final arrangements for a student walkout, but they say safety is the main priority.
Petersburg Public Schools say they are planning to keep students safe and support their First Amendment rights. They say helping students become empowered citizens is a part of their strategic plan.
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