Dreyfoos walkout: ‘These kids have a voice and they want to be heard’

    Joe Capozzi
    3:37 p.m Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 Local
Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts students protest gun violence during a school walkout that ended at West Palm Beach City Hall Friday. (Meghan McCarthy/ The Palm Beach Post)

Just after noon Friday, 1,200 students from the Dreyfoos School of the Arts – the vast majority of the high school’s 1,400 students – walked off campus along with the school’s administration.

The principal, Dr. Suzanne Atherley, said her staff never wants students to leave campus in the middle of the day to march along traffic-filled downtown streets. But she said Friday’s march was an exception because of the emotional reaction her students have had to the school shooting in Parkland.

“I think it’s awesome. I think it’s incredible. These kids have a voice and they want to be heard,’’ Atherley said.

“This would be the one-time walk off campus that they will do that I’m aware of and they worked with administrators to make it happen. It’s student-led but we came with them just to be eyes. (The shootings) really impacted them and they want change.’’

After the kids started organizing the protest march Wednesday night, the school reached out to the West Palm Beach police department, whose officers were stationed along the route to protect the kids from traffic.

Shouting chants like “We want change!” and “Hey Hey Ho Ho, the NRA has got to go!” the feisty kids held signs and proceeded east on Fern Street to Quadrille Avenue where they headed north two blocks and turned east on Clematis Street to City Hall.

Passing cars honked in support, with drivers getting out to take videos. The kids were greeted in the courtyard at City Hall by West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, who reminded them that she too once walked off campus — as a Buffalo, N.Y. high school student protesting the Vietnam War.

“And it was students then who stopped the Vietnam War, and I think you are going to be able to…’’ Muoio paused as the kids’ screams and cheers drowned out her voice. “You are going to make a difference in this country. I’m so proud of you.’’

As the marchers left the campus, they passed a woman holding a sign that read “Listen to our kids.” The woman, Kat Lai, lives in Parkland and works in a Palm Beach State College building that is on the Dreyfoos campus.

“I am so proud of you,’’ she yelled, with tears streaming down her face. “Keep it up!”