By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published March 8, 2018
ATLANTA—Catholic education leaders in Atlanta are exploring how to participate in observances that honor the victims of the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, by supporting students and balancing safety concerns.
Students across the country are preparing a walkout of school as a protest against gun violence on Wednesday, March 14, which marks one month since the campus shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Leaders in the archdiocese aren’t calling it a walkout, but nearly all the school communities expect to stop on March 14 for student-led prayer services and Mass. Some schools may stop for 17 minutes, a minute to honor each of the victims killed in Parkland.
In an email, Diane Starkovich, Ph.D., archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, wrote that the local high school administrators are talking with students “to allow them opportunities for solidarity with other students across the country who share the same concerns regarding gun control and mental illness issues as well.”
She said disruptions, like walking off campus, “cannot occur” out of concern that administrators won’t be able to keep students safe if they leave school.
However, schools are amending some courses as students express concern for the Florida high school community and confront the issue of guns in schools. Theology classes at the archdiocesan high schools will examine these shootings from the Catholic perspective, asking questions about injustice and violence in the world and how believers are to respond.
Also, students at some of the high schools will have the chance to exchange their uniforms to wear the school colors of the Florida high school—maroon and silver. Any money donated from the show of solidarity is to be set aside for the victims of the Florida shooting.
Already school communities have responded with prayer. At Our Lady of Mercy High School, Fayetteville, at 7:17 a.m., just days after the shooting, students led a prayer service outside the school in honor of students and teachers who lost their lives in Florida. Nearly 100 students attended the OLM service.
At Holy Spirit Preparatory School, Atlanta, a scheduled morning assembly will be dedicated to the issue of gun violence. Students will offer prayer in solidarity with students taking direct action on March 14, said Tim Durski, director of communications. The school will be closed for spring break during the planned March 14 observance.
The school administration “certainly supports the spirit of the students advocating on behalf of their own safety,” said Durski.
The independent Catholic school regularly schedules drills to practice lockdown procedures and evacuation with students to prepare them for the possibility of a security incident on campus, he said. School leaders also communicate with parents about campus security, by email and directly, in meetings with parents, he said.
Middle schoolers have also been touched by the recent campus violence. At St. John the Evangelist School, Hapeville, students gathered to discuss safety, the shootings and how to show support for the victims and their families. Going beyond the headlines of gun control, the students read about the lives of the 17 victims to understand the tragedy and loss the community is facing.
Holy Redeemer School, Johns Creek, will mark March 14 by joining together in the school gymnasium to pray the rosary in the morning.
St. Peter Claver Regional School, Decatur, is combining the Daffodil Project—planted in memory of the child victims of the Holocaust—with a memorial to pray for all who are persecuted and all those who have been killed due to violence. And at St. Jude the Apostle School, Sandy Springs, the seventh- and eighth-grade students wrote cards to the students in the Florida high school.
Marist School leaders are collaborating with students to develop a response “reflective of our faith and the Marist values that we share as a school community,” said Jaclyn McNeil, school spokeswoman. Any show of support will be finalized once the school returns from its spring break on Monday, March 12.
In April, another sad anniversary takes place. Friday, April 20, marks the day of the shooting in Columbine, Colorado, when 13 were fatally shot in 1999. At St. Pius X High School, students and staff will walk on to the campus together in a show of solidarity.