Nine students at A.C. Flora High School are facing suspension for their role in an on-campus protest Friday in favor of gun control, according to the students and their parents.
Across the country, tens of thousands of students walked out of class Friday to demand action from legislators to stop gun violence. Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
The Flora students say their protest, walking out of class but remaining on campus, was planned well in advance and discussed with school administrators, only to be cut short without warning on Friday. Many students obeyed the order to return to class after 20 minutes, but nine said they felt they needed to do more to make their voices heard.
“Me and eight of my friends sat down,” said sophomore MacKenzie Blair. She added that when the order to return to class came, “We silently refused.”
MacKenzie’s mother, Jenn Blair, said she supports her daughter and the other students, who were given in-school suspension.
“If you believe in something, you should do something about it. These kids are stepping up. I’m not going to stifle that,” Jenn Blair said. “Why shouldn’t they take a stand?”
Two A.C. Flora students were arrested last month for allegedly bringing weapons onto the campus. Richland County Sheriff’s Department deputies said they found a handgun on school grounds and a loaded magazine in a student’s bookbag.
Three students who asked not to be identified told Midlands Anchor it is easy for non-students to come onto the school’s campus undetected. “It happens just about every day,” one student said.
A.C. Flora and Richland School District One officials did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails from Midlands Anchor Friday afternoon.
Jenn Blair said the weapons arrests frightened her daughter and others, especially coming on the heels of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland, Florida in February. She added that while she can see both sides of the gun control debate and does not always agree with her daughter politically, she rejects the notion that students should not be allowed to protest because it disrupts school.
“Isn’t that what a protest is? It’s causing a disturbance to bring awareness,” Jenn Blair said. “Have you seen the news today? [The nationwide protest] is everywhere. If that’s not getting legislators’ attention, I don’t know what will.”
MacKenzie Blair said she never set out to be a leader or to get attention, but she is willing to step forward, and will continue to speak loudly.
“I started protesting right after Parkland,” she said. “We are a voice. Even though people may try to discourage us, we will make our voices heard, and we will be role models for others.”