The national conversation about guns was reflected at Belfast Area High School March 21 as students participated in both a walkout and a sit-in.

Principal Mary Alice McLean said both protests were organized entirely by students. With the original walkout planned for March 14, when students across the United States participated in coordinated protests, McLean said Belfast students requested a police presence to make them feel safer while outside the building. However, a blizzard last week forced closure of area schools and led to a delay in the planned walkout.

Waldo County is home to a diverse population of students, Assistant Principal Terry Kennison said, and that diversity prompted another group of students to organize a “sit-in.”

“The kids suggested it,” he said. “A lot of our kids, families, hunt. Those kids that might not want to do the walkout piece, this came out of it.”

Students were not required to participate but were not penalized for doing so and regular classes were suspended from 10 to 10:17 a.m. during the events. Many students, like Americans across the nation, gathered in small groups, talking about guns, gun control and school shooting. About 60 participated in the walkout; while fewer than two dozen gathered in the school gym for the sit-in.

Outside, members of the school's Civil Rights Team — who organized the walkout — recognized the 17 victims who were shot at a high school in Parkland, Fla., as well as ready access to weapons. A poster inside the school described the walkout as "a call to Congress to pass laws to protect us from gun violence."

“By walking out today, we are putting our lives in danger,” student Audrey Richdale said, noting students who were shot in Maryland the day before had recently participated in a school walkout. “That should not be OK.”

She said weapons should not be granted more rights than students seeking education at public schools and ended her rallying cry with the chant, “Enough is enough!”

Another speaker read the names of the Parkland victims and said, “These people are not statistics for the news.” She went on to say the walkout was not politically motivated and encouraged more students to speak out.

Students making jokes about shooting other students or bringing weapons to school should no longer be tolerated, she said.

“It is time for our voices to be heard,” she said. “ … It is also time for the school shooter jokes to end.”

Several other students also spoke before students returned to class.

Meanwhile, inside the gym, a speaker talked about formation of a new club at the school that will allow discussion of topics such as guns and voting age limits in a non-threatening, respectful environment. That group meets each Tuesday in room 109 during lunch and all are welcome, he said.

Kennison earlier described the group as "kids who like to debate."

Student Dylan Mitchell rhetorically asked, “How much can a school democracy club do in Belfast, Maine?” He is an original member of the club, which began as a Young Republicans Club.

“Compromise is the backbone of our nation,” he said. “Recently, we've become so polarized, we can't get anything done.”

Mitchell said students should be the leaders of change across the nation.

School staff did not report any unexpected incidences during either event.