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Lake County students join national protest

 LAKE COUNTY – Students in several Lake County schools joined tens of thousands of teenagers in a national walk out on Wednesday, March 14, at 10 a.m. to remember 17 students and staff killed by gun violence at a Florida high school exactly one month before the walk out. Not everyone supported the students walking out of school, and some chose to participate in other ways, but the overall message was that something needs to be done about school shootings. Individual events were coordinated through social media, and each group chose their own way to support the movement. 

 

St. Ignatius

By Karen Peterson/Valley Journal

ST. IGNATIUS – About 65 high school students quietly walked out of school, crossed the parking lot, and sat on the wooden bleachers in front of the school’s football field to show respect for the 17 students lost in the Florida school shooting.

Senior Sophia Tolbert announced that the group would stay silent for 17 minutes, one minute for each life lost. She asked the kids to keep their phones put away and they did. 

The students sat with somber faces in the cool early morning, some looking down, and others leaning on shoulders. At the 15-minute mark, senior Leila Marsh stood up with teary eyes to read the names and ages of those 17 victims. 

After the memorial, they quickly returned to class. Sophia explained while walking that the event was to show support for the school shooting victims, and it was also a way for them to stand up for what they believe in. She said schools need to be protected with better gun control laws. “This can’t keep happening,” she said.

Senior Molly McGreevey said introducing more guns won’t solve the problem. She added that stricter gun laws would be a better solution.  

“We hope law makers hear us,” she said. 

Senior Dana Goss-Dickie said she looked into research concerning the issue of school shootings to develop an opinion on the issue.

“The statistics show gun control will help solve this problem,” she said. “The connection our country has to guns can’t be more important than kids being murdered. We want our representatives in government to take action.”

Dana said the Florida shooting can’t end “without change” like many other shootings across the country. 

“We need to continue this conversation,” she said. “We can’t spend another month giving thoughts and prayers without real action.” 

Lake County School Resource Officer Clay Shoemaker and St. Ignatius Police Chief Matthew Connelly were at the event to make sure everything went smoothly. The students asked for them to be present at the event, and they also talked with school administrators before walking out.

High school principal Shawn Hendrickson said the school couldn’t support the students walking out of class, but their efforts to keep the school informed were appreciated.

“The students were very respectful,” he said. “They contacted law enforcement and made sure everything went well.”

He told the students they would be marked absent if they weren’t back in class at the time required by school rules, and as it turned out, the time frame for the walk out matched up with a transition between classes, so the students were able to make it back, although they were tardy.

“The students kept this from being a huge disruption to the learning environment,” he said.

Hendrickson said he believes more students would have participated in the event, but a suicide prevention training class was occurring at that time, each grade level participated at different times, and the students attending the class didn’t want to miss it.  

 

Ronan

By Summer Goddard/     Valley Journal

RONAN – Four Ronan High School students made it a point to participate in the national walkout last Wednesday in memory of those who were killed in a Parkland, Florida high school shooting one month earlier. 

The Ronan students, freshmen and sophomore girls, said that a school shooting is something they worry about. 

Standing on the school’s frozen tennis courts under the supervision of school administrators, they took turns speaking about the issue and what they thought could make a difference. The girls said they support the right to bear arms, especially in regard to hunting, but were critical of the sale of semi-automatic firearms to young adults. Increasing the minimum age for purchase of semi-automatic weapons to at least 21 years and increased background checks for gun owners were two measures they thought could help curb the incidence of gun violence in schools.

They also agreed that arming teachers wasn’t a good solution.

“What if a student got the teacher’s weapon?” said one girl.

As they spoke quietly among one another, the conversation steered from school shootings to the issue of teen suicide.

“Why can people speak out about school shootings but no one does anything about suicide?” one asked.

Talking about the problem, breaking stigma and getting to potentially underlying issues including bullying were something they said they wished would happen.

“People always say words don’t hurt,” one girl said, “but they do.” She added that it’s hard to know when people say hurtful things if they’re joking or not.

After 17 minutes, observed for the 17 people who died in the Feb. 14 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the girls went back inside to class.

 

Polson 

 By Mary Auld for the Valley Journal 

POLSON – Polson High School students joined students throughout the nation when they walked out of the school for 17 minutes. 

About 30 students stood up at the beginning of an all-school assembly and walked out of the school building to gather outside the entrance to the school. Some stood on benches holding signs and others talked quietly in groups.

One sign read, “I want knowledge in my head not a bullet full of lead!!!” and another, “We all know the world should be better than this.”

The assembly and the walkout are responses to the February 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. During the shooting 17 students were killed by a former student during the school day.

Kalyonna Fisher, a senior at Polson High School, said that she made an extra effort to attend the walkout. 

“I don’t have a class period right now,” she said. “I got up just to do this.”

She said that she attended the walkout because she wants to see the government and society take action to prevent violence.

“Personally I think hate has taken over our politics, our military, our way of living,” she said. “Love is completely in the shadows. So I think that we need to be pushing love and kindness on each other instead of hate because that’s what leads to gun violence.”

The day before the walkout Rex Weltz, Polson Schools’ Superintendent, issued a letter to the community about the event.

“Our student leaders are planning a school assembly highlighting safe schools, honoring the 17 victims of Parkland High School, and advising their peers to speak up if they see or hear about threats to the school or students,” the letter reads. 

In the letter Weltz acknowledged that he was aware that there might be a student-led walkout at the same time as the assembly. He wrote that a walkout would be “in accordance with the students’ rights to engage in speech on matters of public interest,” and stated that Polson School District will not endorse any demonstration.

Polson police cars were parked near the middle school just before 10 a.m.

At the beginning of the assembly a student announced that those who chose to walk out of the school would not be considered absent if they returned to their class by the beginning of the following class period.

Kaiden Forman, a senior, said he had heard students in the assembly would be doing a “walk up.” The exercise would encourage students to talk to people who they don’t know yet. Forman said that he chose to walk out because he thought that it would have a bigger impact than attending the school assembly. 

“This is a little more forthcoming I guess. It shows a little bit more than just sitting in an assembly.”

Forman said that he hoped the walkout would highlight the need to help students who are struggling before they take violent action in schools.

Another student, senior Michael Vergeront, said that he hoped the walkout would inspire younger students to take action in the future.

At 10:17 a.m., after one minute to honor each student killed in the Parkland shooting, the students walked back in to the school.

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