Retired teacher and Laguna Beach resident Anne Caenn is the agitator behind a Main Beach rally planned for 10 a.m. this Saturday, March 24, a show of support for gun control and school safety in the wake of a mass shooting last month at a high school in Florida.
Caenn’s efforts mirror more than 827 planned March For Our Lives satellite protests across the nation and in several countries, displays buttressing students and teachers from Parkland, Fla., expected to rally in the nation’s capital the same day.
Demonstrations are planned at Centennial Regional Park in Santa Ana and in downtown Los Angeles as well.
The litany of such tragedies continues, with another school shooting occurring this past Tuesday, March 20, in Maryland.
“I want to support the students who are going to D.C. to demand Congress take action to stop mass shooting and pass gun control legislation,” said Caenn, who took part in political protests as a teen-ager growing up in Woodland Hills.
At Laguna Beach High School, scores of students last week joined a national walk out, marking the four weeks that had elapsed since a teenage gunman killed 14 students and three faculty members at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla.
Iris Sewell, an LBHS junior who participated in the protest by holding a sign on the sidewalk bordering the campus, expressed disdain for administrators setting the terms of how students could voice their opinion on the issue. Afterward, she circulated a petition that was signed by 106 students, who wanted an apology from administrators for disregarding protest plans of students.
“A big part of it was student run,” she said. Then, “the school took it over; it was run by adults. It defeated the purpose,” Iris said, describing its transformation to a remembrance in the quad, where kids posted notes on a poster, from a school walk out. Both forms of protest ultimately took place. “They are so worried about education; the school should have been encouraging us,” Iris said.
Resident Theodore Schraff agreed and voiced his criticism in an email to school board members for their inaction on an issue that he feels is their elected responsibility.
“I thought Laguna was in the forefront of progressives,” said the 25-year resident, who teaches hairdressing at Fullerton College. “They let students down; they let the community down,” he said, due to their passivity. He said he rearranged his schedule to join the Main Beach rally.
At a board meeting, after student leader Piper Warner outlined walk out plans for classmates to share their opinions in the quad, president Jan Vickers felt the efforts were “student planned and student led” and that administrators cleared their path by signaling they would not be disciplined for participating. “I thought they did right by students,” she said.
Parents and other outsiders were forbidden from joining the walk out on campus as visitors must be screened prior to entry. A computerized identification system was installed last year to screen visitors during school hours, replacing the old-school sign-in sheet.
In reply to Schraff’s letter, Vickers cited guidance provided by Ron Wenkart, general counsel for the Orange County Department of Education. He said administrators may lawfully establish rules for free speech on campus but that school staff is not permitted to join a walk out during the school day. “We don’t go on campus and participate in their activities,” said Vickers, unless invited.
After the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, Caenn recalled that her campus, Venado Middle School in Irvine, started practicing lockdown drills. “You race over and lock the door and get kids on floor. The thing is, they don’t tell you it’s a drill,” said Caenn, who noticed that a lockdown drill, unlike those for fire or earthquakes, would provoke a change in the demeanor of her 14-year-old history and language arts students. “They were quieter. They made some transfer of fear. It was very depressing.”
Caenn is no stranger to political activism. And when a friend, also a retired teacher, suggested a local rally, Caenn said she willingly shouldered the effort to foment a demonstration here because of her affinity for the issue and her experience as an organizer. She led protests as president of a teacher’s union and carried signs as a participant in voter and civil rights marches in Los Angeles. For this rally, she invited participation on social media.
Caenn believes her past activism made a difference. “That moved the dial. I saw things change. If you don’t do something, nothing changes,” she said.
“As a parent and former teacher, it is heartbreaking to know students have to practice ‘active shooter drills’ when they should be concentrating on academics and feeling safe at school.”
School children elsewhere in industrialized nations do not experience this, Caenn said. “The difference is the NRA and their misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.”
An unscientific poll of a score of readers on the Indy’s website shows they lack support for arming school administrators and support a ban on assault rifles.