Across America last Wednesday morning, thousands of high school students left their desks and stepped outside to memorialize the 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who were killed on Feb. 14 by an AR-15 assault rifle in the hands of suspect Nikolas Cruz.
But the National Student Walkout’s other purpose was to show student solidarity for safer schools, and to press politicians into action, such as to increase mental health programs, ban or limit access to assault weapons, require universal background checks before gun sales, and pass a gun violence restraining order law to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.
According to national media reports, most school administrators across the U.S. approved the students’ action and allowed them to exercise their First Amendment rights without penalty. Yet, there were reports of school districts where students were penalized if they joined the walkout.
And according to reports, many of the students who participated pushed for gun control reform. They held placards and signs and chanted slogans to send a message to Congress and state legislatures that “Enough is Enough.”
Here in Tooele County, approximately 300 students at Stansbury High School participated in the national walkout — but did it differently. As we reported in last Thursday’s edition, the students peacefully went to the school’s track, held hands and stood silently for 17 minutes. There were no protest placards, nor slogans chanted for gun control.
Instead, the local walkout’s student organizers rolled out a large banner on the track, which many of the students signed. It read, “See something, Say Something – Stampede for Safety.”
The banner’s message and the morning’s remembrance were clarified by student Sage Dennison, who said the school’s walkout wasn’t intended to be a call for gun control. Instead, it was to honor the 17 victims, call attention to increased school safety — and to create an environment in the school where every student feels purposeful.
“When you go back to class, smile at somebody,” said student Paige Rogers. “Be a friend to somebody that you don’t already know.”
Such was part of a quiet, respectful peace on Stansbury High’s track last Wednesday morning. But in that peace there was power. The students who participated are acknowledged for letting us know how they feel, what matters most to them, and doing so in a manner that inspired awe, respect — and honored 17 lost lives.
Likewise, the Tooele County School District and administrators are acknowledged for recognizing students’ right to peacefully assemble, and to give them a chance to join their peers in a growing national chorus of stopping gun violence in schools.
Superintendent Scott Rogers perhaps described it best.
“The walkouts by students were a teaching moment for all of us,” he said. “It is important to listen to student voices. As a district, we are moving forward with talks and action plans about safety and security, as well as mental health and school support. For us this was not political or a waste of time. This is a great way to learn about peaceful assembly, civil rights, change, and the process of democracy and social justice.”