Featured Falcon: Caitlyn Fanelli

Caitlyn Fanelli leads students to the field to protest ineffective COVID policy enforcement.

Caitlyn Fanelli

Caitlyn Fanelli leads students to the field to protest ineffective COVID policy enforcement.

In the wake of two back-to-back walkouts to protest ineffective and unenforced COVID safety protocols, the Pulse sat down with organizer and advocate Caitlyn Fanelli to get some background about the process of setting up the walkouts, and whether there could be more in the future.

Tell us about your history with advocacy?

In the past, I’ve attended various protests in the greater Maryland/DC area, such as a gun control protest in 2019 and a BLM protest in 2020. There were also a few walkouts at my middle school around the time all of the school shootings were happening across the county. 

Can you describe your walkout for us? 

Both walkouts I organized were really amazing! Both times there were a significant amount of people in attendance, and everyone was extremely passionate about the topics we were protesting against. There was never a time [when] someone wasn’t sharing their experiences or opinions, and it was all constructive criticism, which I was placing a huge emphasis on. We only had a few problems with people showing up to skip, mocking us, etc., but that’s pretty much expected for any form of protest. Otherwise, it was a really great experience to be able to gather a couple of hundred students from all grades and houses to unite against a common issue.

What was the moment that you decided you needed to organize a walkout? 

I decided to organize the first walkout (specific to Poolesville) after getting off of Hana O’Looney’s Instagram Live with [Superintendent] McKnight and other Board members/officials. Most of what the adults were saying was extremely deflective or irrelevant, despite being flooded with comments and concerns about Covid-19. It became very clear to me that there was essentially no chance of the whole county going virtual for two weeks or even just Poolesville itself, and I realized that we were pretty much left to our own devices. After seeing so many staff and students failing to wear their masks properly or enforce the mask mandate, I decided that it was time to take action and started to plan the initial walkout. The second walkout (the whole county one) was organized by me and another student, Nora Rudmann (a Humanities Sophomore), after we were contacted by a group of high school students around the county that were looking to organize walkouts against MCPS and the Board of Education. They asked us to be representatives for Poolesville, so I ended up planning a second walkout for the week after the first one.

What goals do you wish to accomplish with the walkout?

With the first walkout, I had hoped to put pressure on the administration to begin to better implement our mask mandate (this means constant reminders to students about how to properly wear their masks and discipline for students who repeatedly fail to exhibit mask safety) and to communicate with staff and students better. I had talked to a lot of teachers and peers who complained about the lack of acknowledgment towards COVID-19 concerns, especially when we returned in January from winter break. With the second walkout, we had a shared goal to put pressure on the Board of Education and hopefully get them to reconsider their decision to not do a two-week virtual period. While the first walkout did actually lead admin at Poolesville to begin to enforce our mask mandate better (we now have daily reminders on morning announcements and I’ve noticed a lot more staff calling out students who don’t wear masks properly), the second walkout didn’t really seem to accomplish the goal we had across the county. We were virtually ignored by the Board of Education, and I don’t believe they ever actually reconsidered doing a two-week virtual period.

Do you plan on holding any more walkouts? Any walkouts to address different issues?

Probably not anytime soon. Planning and organizing two different walkouts back to back like I did in January caused a lot of stress and exhaustion for me. I was asked to be a representative for Poolesville on a new organization for advocacy across the county (created by the same people who initially contacted me about the county-wide walkouts), but I, unfortunately, had to decline because of how overwhelming the entire experience was. In the rare event that something big happens from now until the end of my Senior year that might need to be protested against, I’d consider doing another walkout but with a much larger planning team and with much more planning time.

Do you plan on continuing activist efforts as you graduate high school? If so, which topics are you particularly interested in? 

100% yes. Growing up near DC having all of these opportunities to engage in protests and walkouts and having a family that places a strong emphasis on advocacy, it seems to be a crucial part of my life now. While I don’t think I’ll be organizing protests or leading advocacy organizations, I’ll probably continue to join others in advocacy efforts after I graduate high school. As for topics I’m interested in when it comes to advocacy, I place a lot of importance on racial and social issues, as well as health issues on occasion.