Students walk out in protests countywide


While the Blair walk out started spontaneously and leaderless, as it progressed, a group of students took charge. They were joined by civil rights activist, Jeffrey O. Thames, Sr (left)., founder of non-profit Hope Restored! near Wheaton Mall. Photo courtesy Nate Helsing.

By Carmen Molina

Thousands have taken to the streets, protesting in major cities across the country since the election results came in on Nov. 8. Since Monday, high schoolers across MCPS have followed suit, walking out of classrooms and onto roads to chant, rally, and publicly voice their dissatisfaction with the election results.

Schools with students involved in protests included Montgomery Blair, Northwood, Albert Einstein, Walter Johnson, Bethesda Chevy-Chase, Wheaton, James Hubert Blake, Watkins Mill, Gaithersburg, Springbrook, Paint Branch, Seneca Valley, Quince Orchard, Northwest, and Richard Montgomery High Schools.

First protests at Blair

The county protests began when hundreds of students from Montgomery Blair High School walked out of their classrooms Nov. 14 in a demonstration students planned largely through social media.

Blair principal Renay Johnson was aware of the protest plans, and designated the school football field as a space for the students to safely demonstrate, but after gathering on the field many students spontaneously decided to leave campus. Despite rumors of potential punishment or suspension, students said they felt their protest couldn’t have the same impact if confined to school grounds.

Though the protest was peaceful, one man with a Donald Trump bumper sticker did get upset that students were blocking his exit and allegedly pulled out a gun, Blair junior Karen Depenyou said. The police escorting the student protesters took care of the alleged issue.

“It was pretty scary, but this wasn’t a big part of the protests,” Depenyou said. “The protesters don’t really want that to become the focus of the stories. We don’t want it to take away from the message.”

As coverage of the Blair walkout filled social media and news outlets, students from Einstein and Northwood were swept up in the momentum as the protest passed through the high schools’ respective areas.

Many of the protesters said they weren’t aiming to change the election results, but rather denounce President-Elect Trump’s political stances on issues such as immigration and abortion, as well as comments he made throughout his campaign that many female and minority students interpreted as an endorsement of racism and discrimination.

Students say protesting is a way to express their viewpoints and opinion of the results since most were unable to vote in the election.

“It shows that no matter who you are, in this country you have a voice and the right to stand for what you believe in,” Blair senior Spencer Helsing said. “Trump is going to be president and we can’t change that, but we don’t condone it.”

Seeing all of us together, on the streets and on the road, was an empowering feeling. It makes you feel like you can change what is going on.

— Chaylin Henderson

For some, that meant condemning the hatred and discrimination they felt was inflamed over the course of the campaign and advocating for the rights of women and minorities.

“We weren’t just protesting Trump; we were protesting all of the systems of oppression in our country,” Blair junior Honor Kalala said.

While students were advised not to leave campus, teachers and non-participating students were generally supportive of the student’s right to protest, as were many of the people the demonstrators passed on the street. Student videos showed a number of cars stopping to cheer and give students high fives, waves or honks in support.

“Seeing all of us together, on the streets and on the road, was an empowering feeling,” Northwood junior Chaylin Henderson said. “It makes you feel like you can change what’s going on.”

Other county schools stage their own protests

Since the Blair protest, schools all over the county have been spurred to action.

Students at Richard Montgomery, Blake, Springbrook, and Paint Branch staged major walkouts Nov. 16.

Students from Blake, Springwood, and Paint Branch high schools came together at the Colesville Center and marched down to a local park for a rally. Richard Montgomery demonstrated separately, walking out to Rockville Town Square and converging at the Old Montgomery County District Courthouse.

Blair protesters marched to Wheaton Mall, where they gathered on the roof of the parking garage for rallying speeches. Photo courtesy Spencer Helsing.
Blair protesters marched to Wheaton Mall, where they gathered on the roof of the parking garage for rallying speeches. Photo courtesy Spencer Helsing.

At the Richard Montgomery demonstration, a student wearing a “Make America Great Again” engaged in an argument with a protester that culminated in a physical fight, according to a Nov. 17 article in The Washington Post.

The incident prompted superintendent Smith’s appeal that students stop demonstrations off campus for their own safety.

“Our goal was to be peaceful,” Richard Montgomery junior Yngara Pehoua-Dupervil said. “Honestly, I felt proud of myself and my school. People say protesting won’t make a difference because Trump’s already been elected, but it felt good to be apart of something this big.”

Not everyone joined in, however, even if they agreed with the protesters’ message.

Some students said they were worried about the repercussions of missing school; others just didn’t think protests on a local scale could have legitimate impact.

“I think walking out was a poor way to voice their opinions. Logically, how is missing class going to help anybody?” Richard Montgomery junior Deedee Yan said. “There are better ways to achieve the same goals.”

While a group of Whitman students did organize a demonstration in D.C. Nov. 12, some students regretted that Whitman did not stage a walkout of it’s own.

“I wish we had done one because a walkout shows that you’re not going to just sit by and watch,” senior Georgia Gray said. “Hopefully, if there can’t be anymore walkouts, it will inspire people to take some other course of action outside of school.”

MCPS reacts, hoping to protect student safety

MCPS released a statement Nov. 14 in response to the first demonstration, stating that while students had the right to assemble and demonstrate peacefully, “students who choose to exercise these rights during school hours are strongly encouraged to remain on school property when engaging in these activities so that we can ensure their safety and security.”

While protests have been predominantly peaceful, the assault of a student during the Nov. 16 walkout at Richard Montgomery prompted superintendent Jack Smith to release a video the following morning urging students to cease walkouts.

“These demonstrations have unfortunately demonstrated valid concerns regarding the security of our students outside our schools,” Smith said. “Our goal is to keep students safe, under adult supervision, and engaged in the learning process.”

Students said, however, that the effectiveness of the walkout was rooted in the idea of going against school policies.

“We were trying to protest, and it’s not really a protest unless it’s an inconvenience for someone,” Blair junior Honor Kalala said. “There has to be something at risk.”