Students protest against gun violence outside of the White House just days after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a south Florida high school on Monday, February 19, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Olivier Douliery TNS
Students protest against gun violence outside of the White House just days after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a south Florida high school on Monday, February 19, 2018 in Washington, D.C. Olivier Douliery TNS

Education

As students plan walkouts to protest gun violence, school districts ponder fallout

By Suzanne Perez Tobias

stobias@wichitaeagle.com

February 19, 2018 05:19 PM

Students and activists speaking out in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida, are organizing nationwide school walkouts to protest gun violence.

The Women’s March EMPOWER branch, a group dedicated to youth-led advocacy, is encouraging students, teachers and others to take part in “#ENOUGH,” a school walkout on March 14 at 10 a.m.

The goal is for students and school staff to walk out of their classrooms for 17 minutes that morning – one minute for each of the fatalities at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – to urge Congress to “take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation,” the organization said in a statement.

Another nationwide walkout, planned by Connecticut high school student Lane Murdock, is set for April 20, the anniversary of a shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that killed 12 students and a teacher in 1999.

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The National High School Walkout includes a Change.org petition and a Twitter account – @schoolwalkoutUS – and urges students to walk out of class at 10 a.m. April 20.

“Walk out of school, wear orange and protest online and in your communities,” reads the petition. “Nothing has changed since Columbine, let us start a movement that lets the government know the time for change is now.”

Matthew Melchor, a senior at Maize High School, said he plans to participate in the protest April 20 to help send a message to lawmakers in support of stricter gun regulations.

Melchor, 18, owns a shotgun and is a member of his school’s trap shooting team. But he supports banning military-style weapons like the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, which was used in Florida and several other mass shootings, and raising the legal age for purchasing firearms.

“I don’t see the value in me being able to go out and purchase an assault rifle just for fun,” said Melchor, who hopes to attend West Point.

“I hope these protests are big enough to show people that something really does need to be changed. I hope Washington, D.C., sees it and they understand that high school kids care about what’s happening in their communities.”

Wichita school district officials said they have heard about potential walkouts and are discussing the issue.

Gil Alvarez, assistant superintendent of secondary schools, pointed to the district’s policy on pupil behavior, which prohibits walkouts, boycotts and other similar protests.

“Once a pupil arrives at school, it is the pupil’s responsibility to remain so long as he/she has classes scheduled or is required to do so,” the policy states. “Any violations of this nature will be dealt with promptly and firmly.”

Wichita’s policy does not list specific consequences for students participating in walkouts. Alvarez could not be reached Monday to elaborate on how schools would handle such protests.

Lori O’Toole Buselt, spokeswoman for the Maize school district, said administrators “will be having conversations” about planned walkouts, and Superintendent Chad Higgins “plans to discuss this with the student body.”

Depending on the school, consequences for students participating in walkouts could range from an unexcused absence – for which they would not be allowed to make up missed assignments – to detention.

Melchor, the Maize High senior, said he heard he could get detention for participating in a walkout but would do so without complaint.

“Something needs to happen, and it needs to be big. We need to make sure it’s big enough that it does get people’s attention,” he said.

“So they’re either going to have to punish hundreds of kids, or maybe they’ll say, ‘I guess this is really important to them, and maybe we should listen.’”

"I am a high school senior who three days ago was worried about which of my friends would receive flowers for Valentine's Day." ... Now, "my main concerns are funerals, gun control and whether or not I am going to be shot wherever I go," says Del

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Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias