Thousands of students across the nation were walking out of classrooms Wednesday to mark one month since the bloody rampage at a Florida high school that shocked the world and fueled a dynamic youth movement demanding an end to gun violence.
Students from almost 3,000 schools were marking National Walkout Day, most by leaving their classrooms at 10 a.m. local time to show solidarity for the 17 killed in the Valentine’s Day attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
In Parkland, police lined the streets as students from the high school and a nearby middle school were walking two miles from their school to memorials set up for the victims. The students, who rejected requests from administrators to return to class instead of marching, chanted “We want change!” and “MSD!”
In Washington, several hundred students of all ages massed outside the White House, waving signs and shouting “What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!”
Bella Graham, a seventh-grader at Takoma Park Middle School in Maryland, said she thought she needed to support the students in Parkland.
“I shouldn’t have to be here,” said Graham, armed with a sign that read “an assault on our future” with a photo of a rifle. “I should be in school, but we have to stick up for ourselves and say enough is enough of this violence.”
While the protests rolled on, Democrats in the U.S. Senate took to the floor for a series of speeches in which they read the names of young people killed by gun violence.
Students across the United States are planning to walk out of their classrooms to protest congressional inaction on gun control.
School walkouts were planned throughout the U.S. and as far as Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany.
At Herron High School near downtown Indianapolis, 17 students stood in a circle and held photos of those who died in Parkland. Hundreds of students held signs reading “Never again” and “Enough is enough.” Some chanted “Make change now!” and “We deserve better!”
In some cities, the message was mixed. In Vero Beach, Fla., about 100 miles north of Parkland, scores of students gathered around a flagpole where their cries of “We want change!” and “Am I next?” were at times met with other students chanting “Trump!” and “We want guns.”
In Plainfield, N.J., about 1,000 students silently walked the perimeter of Plainfield High School. Some school staff joined them.
“I am very proud of our students,” performing arts teacher Shaniesha Evans said. “This was their idea and this is what they wanted to do.”
In Haddonfield, N.J., teachers held their own march before school. About 100 students, teachers, parents and administrators came together, many carrying signs or wearing orange ribbons.
“This walk is our way of showing our students we support them and believe in keeping them safe,” said Stacey Brown, an English and special education teacher at Haddonfield Memorial High School.
At Newport High School in Newport, Ky., students quietly marched out of class just after 8 a.m. The students lined the street in front of the school and stood silently, facing traffic.
They carried signs bearing the names of children killed in school shootings. Many wore white T-shirts with “MARCH FOR OUR LIVES” written on the front and “JUST FIX IT” on the back.
Wednesday’s walkouts marked the first in a series of events in March and April organized by students across the nation as part of the #NeverAgain movement. Another walkout is scheduled on April 20 to mark the 19th year since the Columbine High School massacre.
A massive rally dubbed March For Our Lives is planned March 24 in Washington. The event is expected to attract 500,000 people and has spurred sister marches in every state.
On Wednesday, students at each school were expected to demonstrate in different ways: Some are planning to leave their schools and march, while others will hold a short memorial service, hold hands or use the time to register to vote.
Students at some schools like University High School in Tucson, Ariz., will recite the names of the students and school administrators who died in Parkland and make plans to flood local lawmakers with calls about addressing gun violence.
“My peers and I feel there is no time more critical than this to make clear that we have had enough of gun violence,” said Deja Foxx, a senior at the high school. “For far too long, it has made us feel unsafe in our communities and in our classrooms.”
While many schools have been accommodating to the planned demonstrations — some even cheering on students — other districts are warning students that they will face disciplinary actions if they disrupt classes with the protest.
Students in parts of New Jersey and southeast Texas were warned last month that if they participate in the walkout, they would face a three-day suspension.
Curtis Rhodes, superintendent for Needville Independent School District, about 40 miles southwest of Houston, said disruptions wouldn’t be tolerated because “a school is a place to learn” and vowed to suspend all students participating.
Some districts, including one in South Carolina, were barring the news media from going to schools during the protests in hopes it will discourage students from walking out, which the district says could be unsafe. Greenville school district spokeswoman Beth Brotherton says a student protest for gun-control measures is a divisive issue and students should instead “focus on kindness.”
Many schools are asking students who plan to protest to stay inside for safety reasons. One principal in northern Ohio even offered students free orange T-shirts, the color associated with gun-control efforts, if they agreed to stay inside.
Mansfield Senior High School Principal Scott Musser said he hopes the shirts, with the message “Hear Something? See Something? SAY SOMETHING!,” will unify the school and start a conversation.
“I believe we are a stronger community together by remaining inside, sharing ideas and speaking out against violence,” Musser said. “If we stand together, there won’t be any need to walk out.”
Follow Christal Hayes on Twitter: Journo_Christal; John Bacon: @jmbacon
Contributing from USA TODAY NETWORK: Kristyn Wellesley, Ricardo Cano, Paul Hyde, Lou Whitmire, Phaedra Trethan, Hannah Sparling, Chris Mayhew, Mary Helen Moore, Arika Herron and Justin L. Mack; Paul Grzella
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