Hundreds of students at Batavia High School walk out of class to protest gun violence

Batavia High School sophomore Emme Stawniak holds up a sign among hundreds of classmates during a walk-out organized by the school’s Students Against Gun Violence club on Friday, April 19, 2024.

Batavia High School students wore orange and walked out of class April 19 in protest of gun violence in schools.

Orange has become the color associated with the anti-gun violence movement.

Hundreds of students left their classrooms at 2 p.m. Friday and walked across Main Street to Engstrom Family Park, where they held signs calling for change and participated in “protect kids not guns,” “end gun violence” and “unite for gun reform” chants.

The walkout was not in protest of the school district, but to call on lawmakers for stricter gun laws. During the protest, many students signed a petition demanding stricter gun laws, background checks for gun owners and greater mental health support.

Batavia High School junior Mithali Obadage, who was one of the protest’s organizers, said she and her friends first discussed organizing a protest after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, last year. They chose the date to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the deadly school shooting in Columbine, Colorado, on April 20, 1999.

Obadage is part of a group that calls itself BHS Students Against Gun Violence. Other members include Rozzie Line, Skylar Eastham, Ellie Carter and Anna Roberts, all juniors at Batavia High School.

(Left to right) BHS Students Against Gun Violence organizers Roczie Line, Anna Roberts, Ellie Carter, Skylar Eastham and Mithali Obadage gather among hundreds of classmates during a school walk-out on Friday, April 19, 2024.

Organizers said there were way more students participating in the walkout than expected and they were very happy with the turnout.

Carter said gun violence is a topic they all are very passionate about as it directly affects teenagers and they saw the walkout as a way to take the issue into their own hands and protest in a way that was accessible to their peers.

“I think the gun violence issue is a very present example of our leaders putting the needs of our society, and especially our young people, behind their own interests.”

—  Martin Beirne, senior at Batavia High School

Obadage said the goal of the protest was to make their voices heard by politicians and to show lawmakers that many high school students care deeply about taking steps toward preventing gun violence.

“Even though this is a small town, a lot of people here still care and a lot of high school kids care a lot about making sure that gun violence in schools is preventable,” Obagage said. “Especially because this is something that affects us directly as high school students.”

Sophomore Nathan Schaum said this was his first time being part of a protest and he was participating because he doesn’t believe military weapons should be in public circulation. He was one of many who signed the petition in hopes it would reach lawmakers and encourage them to implement stricter regulations.

“I believe when I go to school I should be able to learn [and] not worry about my life getting taken away,” Schaum said. “It should be a safe space for people to socialize with their peers and learn new things.”

Senior Martin Beirne applauded the organizers for bringing everyone together and said he was happy to be involved in such an important event.

“Everyday is a great day to protest the injustices of our society,” Beirne said. “I think the gun violence issue is a very present example of our leaders putting the needs of our society, and especially our young people, behind their own interests.”

Before the protest, organizers spread the word at school by handing out stickers and bracelets and through the Instagram account bhs_studentsagainstgunviolence.

In an attempt to make the protest a school sanctioned event, Obadage wrote a proposal and submitted it to the principal, but her request was denied.

“Just because someone tells you that you can’t do something doesn’t mean you can’t do it, especially when it comes to advocating for what you believe in,” Obadage said. “Our mindset was that if we did face repercussions, it would be worth it.”

While the protest was not sanctioned by the school district, staff was aware of the walkout and assured students they would not face punishment if they decided to participate.

Superintendent Tom Kim said he was proud that the students were able to bring themselves together in support of something they feel strongly about.

“I think that’s really important that our young people who are our future leaders understand that they have a voice and an agency to make change,” Kim said. “Part of what growing up and being a student is about is learning these things and when they leave us, they’ll be in the real world putting those skills to practice.”