Columbia High School and Henkle Middle School students joined hundreds of thousands of students across the country in a 17-minute walk out on March 14.
The day marked one month since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 14 students and three teachers were murdered. Nationally, the core of the walkout was to call out the United States government for its inaction on meaningful policies regarding guns, mental health, and school safety, and to memorialize the lives lost in this shooting and others.
It is estimated that 7,000 children have lost their lives to gun violence since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2014.
According to CHS staff, about a third of the student population participated in the walkout, along with 10-15 HMS students.
According to the organizers of the walkout, more than half of the student population were considering participating but were discouraged in doing so either by their families or a letter that was distributed around the school during the previous week.
The letter was distributed to encourage students to participate in the walkout but may have had the opposite effect because of its message regarding gun control. The author of the letter was not known by organizers.
“On Wednesday, March 14, at 10 am, there will be a walkout. We will gather for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims of the Parkland school shooting. We will meet at the Tika Memorial in front of A-Court. There will be several short speeches and a recognition of the victims of the Parkland School shooting. The purpose of this event is to memorialize these victims and demand action from Congress that will keep our schools and students safer. The priority policies we support are: banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines, expanding background checks to all gun sales, passing a gun violence restraining order law and halting the militarization of law enforcement,” reads the letter.
“The priority policies we oppose are: conceal carry reciprocity and any legislation that would aim to fortify our schools with more guns. We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns. Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that addresses this public health crisis. We want Congress to pay attention and take note: many of us will vote this November and many more will flood the polls in 2020.You have the constitutional right to peaceably assemble. Come exercise it,” concludes the letter.
While the letter may have had an impact on the turnout it was hard to tell when 10 a.m. rolled around, students came flooding out of A-Court and up the street from the middle school to gather around the memorial for Martha “Tika” Paz de Noboa. She was a CHS exchange student who was shot and killed in Portland in 2009. Standing among the students were members of the community, parents, and grandparents.
Leading up to the event, CHS Principal Craig McKee shared a letter on the school’s website to help parents understand why they were allowing for students to participate in the walkout.
“We recognize the event as a powerful moment of civic education and a good lesson in democracy. While we will not encourage students to participate in the event, we recognize students’ rights to peacefully demonstrate. We encourage parents and guardians to talk with your child about the event and his or her participation. The walkout will happen during our advisory period. Our goal is to make sure there is meaningful instruction going on in the advisory classrooms as well as supervision for the students that choose to walk out. Our primary focus is to make sure students feel safe. We also ask students to understand that with the right to demonstrate comes responsibilities. ALL students need to be respected no matter whether or not they choose to participate.”
It should be noted that students who chose to walk out needed to have a signed form from their parents.
Four CHS students organized and led the walkout. Three of the four made speeches and one read the names and ages of the Parkland victims and held a collective moment of silence. There was also an opportunity for those who wanted to speak.
“I want to thank you all for being here, for having the courage to walk out and stand up for what you believe in. It is inspiring, and it is just the beginning of something immensely great. Our words and our actions are powerful, and they cannot be silenced. We have grown up in a climate where school shootings have become a normal occurrence. We have grown accustomed to massive tragedies happening day after day. We are numbed to the havoc gun violence is wreaking on our nation. We, as students, have a right to feel safe while we are learning. For some, school is safer than home, the only place with a hot meal, somewhere with caring adults looking after us. For some, school is the only place where making plans for the future is possible, the only inspiring place, the only place we feel comfortable in our own skin. It is a place we deserve to feel safe at,” said CHS senior Leah Glasser.