Thousands of San Diego County students walked out of classes Wednesday morning as part of a nationwide action to honor the 17 people killed in last month’s school shooting in Florida and urge federal action to curb gun violence.
More than 2,500 walkouts planned across the nation got underway early Wednesday as students on the East Coast began to mark the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Most local demonstrations began at 10 a.m. and were expected to continue for 17 minutes — one for every person who died in Parkland. More than three dozen walkouts were planned in San Diego County.
Some school districts, including San Diego Unified, worked with students ahead of time to support the events.
The district promoted the “positive” demonstration planned at Patrick Henry High School in San Carlos, which was expected to include a moment of silence, speeches from student leaders and a reading of a poem penned by one of the Parkland shooting victims.
In an open area at the high school, a memorial was set up featuring 17 white folding chairs placed in a circle, with a red rose lying across each chair. Taped to each chair back was a photograph with the name of a Parkland victim.
Nearby the memorial, local television crews interviewed students, including one holding a handwritten sign that read, “We are Stoneman Strong and We Say #Enough.” Another student held a sign that read, “Protect Students, Not Guns.”
At El Camino High School, students set up a memorial for the Parkland Victims on the grass outside a classroom. Seventeen stakes were driven into the ground, with the photos and names of each victim attached. Below the photos, students laid out 14 backpacks for the students, each one with a personalized touch, like soccer balls for the victims who played soccer, a basketball for a hoops star and pom poms for a Parkland cheerleader. A football and an apple was placed by the photo of Parkland football coach and educator Chris Hixon.
Schools around the country designed memorials and remembered the Parkland victims in creative ways. At Cooper City High School in Broward County — the same county where Marjory Stoneman Douglas High is located — students set up a memorial with 14 desks and three lecterns to represent the 14 students and three educators killed in the shooting.
At South High School in Columbus, Ohio, students stepped outside in frigid weather and called out the names of the 17 Parkland victims, releasing a balloon for each one, NPR reported.
High schoolers weren’t the only students participating in the walkout. Southwestern College’s Associated Student Organization sent a Tweet asking for Southwestern students to take part in the walkout. In the message that was retweeted by Southwestern College’s official account, the organization asked that students wear orange and walk out for 17 minutes to honor the Parkland victims.
Students at Patrick Henry High School planned to wear black and put their thumb prints on a poster as a sign they’ll take action to curb gun violence. They’ll also sign a banner that will be sent to students at the Florida school.
The students also plan to make available during lunchtime this week a list of mental health resources, list of elected officials’ contact information and voter registration assistance.
“All students (had) the choice to remain in class under supervision, go to the cafeteria where they may observe 17 minutes of silence, or participate,” the district said in a statement.
Each school planned to offer a different take on the event.
At Hoover High School in City Heights, students planned to read a list of the victims names. The Junior ROTC was also slated to make an appearance.
“I decided that the best course of action was to start a dialogue with our students,” Hoover Principal Jason Babineau told The San Diego Union- Tribune. “Ultimately, I believe this is a great opportunity for our students to show the world and the community they have a voice.”
Parents of local students and other residents will show their support of the movement at an after-school rally in San Elijo Town Square in San Marcos. There, local candidates are expected to speak and participants will call on the San Marcos School Board to pass a resolution against gun violence.
San Diego County Sheriff’s Department officials said they were aware of the walkouts and supported the students’ right to express themselves in a peaceful and respectful manner.
“We would ask that students and administrators communicate with their local law enforcement particularly if they will be leaving campus to ensure their safety navigating roadways and the well-being of drivers and pedestrians,” the department’s statement said. “For our students: Please respect the instructions of school officials and if you hear any threats of violence or even potential violence, we encourage you to talk to one of our Sheriff’s School Resource Deputies. The Sheriff’s Department takes every threat seriously.”
— City News Service