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Students across Spokane area participate in nationwide school walkout

UPDATED: Wed., March 14, 2018, 10:51 p.m.

Students across the Inland Northwest walked out of school Wednesday morning in a show of solidarity for the survivors and lives lost in the Parkland, Florida, shooting.

The walkouts began at 10 a.m. and lasted 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people killed. Students from across the country participated in the call for safer schools and stronger gun control legislation.

The demonstrations galvanized many young people who are coming of age in an era of mass shootings, two decades of war and a gaping political divide.

Freeman High School

About 50 students filed out of Freeman High School and gathered in a circle, facing inward.

Heads bowed and hooded against the light rain, the students stood silently as 18 minutes slipped by – an extra minute for Sam Strahan, their former classmate, who was shot and killed last year inside the school. Dozens more students watched quietly from the windows.

After the 18th minute had passed, the students raised their heads and the circle broke. The group trickled back through the school’s front doors, a class bell sounding moments later.

The moment of silence was organized by students via social media, and brought to the attention of school administrators only Tuesday afternoon, said Principal Harry Amend. Nevertheless, the school supported the action.

“They absolutely had permission,” he said. “These kids really were exemplary in their behavior. It was a great show of respect for Sam and appreciation of support we’ve had from the community.”

Lewis and Clark High School

Hundreds poured out of Lewis and Clark High School around 10 a.m. to applause from demonstrating parents. “Yeah, we’re with you!” shouted one adult.

The students chanted: “We are change,” “We call BS,” “Enough is enough,” “Don’t forget to vote” and “Kids not guns.”

Jonah Bardwell, a Lewis and Clark senior, said he was scared by the Freeman shooting because it was so close to home. But the Parkland shooting spurred him to action.

Benjamin Lyons, 17, said not everyone at the walkout had the same views on gun control.

“We all know that something is wrong, and it needs to change,” Lyons said. “Either on the left or right, we can agree that something needs to happen.”

Fiona Whitver, a Lewis and Clark senior who organized the school’s walkout on Facebook, said she was stunned by how many students and parents turned out.

“This is so much bigger than I thought it would be,” Whitver said, clutching a hand-painted protest sign. “This makes me so happy.”

After 17, maybe 18 minutes, the crowd at Lewis and Clark began to file back inside through the school’s main entrance. But a few students lingered on the steps, holding their signs in the rain, talking to reporters and school administrators.

“I’m out here today because school is already a stressful place,” said Larke Schaff, a 15-year-old freshman. “The added stress of wondering if you’ll live long enough to go home after class is something no one should have to live with.”

“Parents,” she added, “should not have to pack their kids’ lunches in the morning and wonder if that lunch will get eaten because one student decided to take 17 lives.”

Mead High School

At Mead High School, walkout organizers chose to keep the focus on school safety and remembering Parkland students, not guns.

About 200 students met by the side of the school to listen as junior Morgan Coerver read the name and age of each student killed in the shooting, along with a quote from a family member or friend.

“We wanted to keep it pretty neutral,” Coerver said, since many students at Mead have strong opinions about guns.

Fellow organizer Madeline Gendrean then asked for a full minute of silence before students walked around the school to enter through the front doors. Those doors are supposed to serve as a single point of entry for the school, one way the building is designed to keep students safe.

“We want to make this school a safe place so we don’t have to read any more names of victims,” Gendrean told the crowd.

Gendrean said she wanted to get involved because she was “devastated” when she saw other high school students killed in Parkland.

“We want everyone to feel they can go and get an education and not have to risk their life to do it,” she said.

A half-dozen adults stood in the school parking lot supporting the students. Among them was Gendrean’s grandmother, Kath’ren Bay, who wore a sign saying, “Grandparents for SCHOOL SAFETY.”

She said gun violence has been a problem her entire life, and she was proud to see young people doing something about it.

“The kids are shaming us adults for sitting down,” Bay said.

Rogers High School

“People are genuinely scared to go to school.”

Kai Reiner’s lament outside Rogers High School underscored the feelings of some 100 students gathered in the northeast Spokane school.

“Seventeen people lost their lives and that’s why we are out here. We are out here to make a difference,” said Sydney Hubbard, a senior. “The problem is that no one cares about each other anymore. Every single one of us feels hurt and love and pain. You want to be cared about and I want to be cared about.”

Marilee Goldston, a senior, led a moment of silence after reading the names of those killed.

Gonzaga Preparatory School

Out of habit, students at Gonzaga Preparatory School filed into the school’s gym Wednesday morning for a student-led assembly on gun violence and separated into the classes plastered on the wall above them.

Sophomores with sophomores. Seniors with seniors.

Sidney Semenza, an organizer of the assembly and subsequent walkout of the private school of about 850 students, urged her classmates to squish together. That was the theme of Wednesday’s demonstration, which had the blessing of the school’s administration.

“I hope we can get a bunch of people with different perspectives together, and just start a dialogue,” said Semenza, a senior at the school.

After a presentation that included gun violence statistics presented by a member of the school’s debate team and a video featuring Freeman shooting victim Gracie Jensen, the 200 or so students who chose to attend the assembly sprawled on the hardwood to make signs for an upcoming nationwide march against gun violence later this month.

Others wrote letters to their representatives in Congress, and still more signed up to vote on tablets operated by student volunteers.

Jaime Dorsh, another organizer of the event, said the turnout was greater than anticipated. Dorsh said the focus was on civilized discussion, rather than partisan politics.

“I planned for the worst,” Dorsh said. “This is a divisive topic, even though we don’t want it to be.”

“This isn’t partisan,” Dorsh added. “It’s human.”

Semenza said the students weren’t calling for additional gun control measures, just more comprehensive background checks and mental health screenings before potential buyers are allowed to purchase firearms.

After congregating in the gym, students gathered outside near midfield just after 10 a.m. in rainy and blustery weather. Some students were given cards bearing the name of a victim of gun violence in this school year. The last read into a microphone was Strahan, the Freeman student killed last year.

Minutes of silence followed, with students closing their eyes, staring down in contemplation or raising their gaze to the sky.

Administrators looked on as the students walked out. An unauthorized walkout occurred shortly after the Parkland shooting, and Dorsh said she wanted Wednesday’s events to be more organized and focused on achieving change.

Michael Dougherty, the school’s president, released a statement Tuesday explaining the school’s decision to support the event.

“We have chosen to support our students in their action because it is their intention to bring people of good will together in our shared appreciation for the precious gift of life, regardless of personal opinions about policy or politics,” Dougherty said.

Members of the choir, huddled beneath umbrellas, sang a rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and students filed back into their classrooms shortly before 10:20 a.m.

East Valley High School

Nearly 100 East Valley High School students participated in a walkout.

Students at 10 a.m. filed out of the school’s doors in small groups and gathered at the front entrance. In the pouring rain, they locked arms, sang “Lean on Me,” recited the national anthem and then held a moment of silence to honor the Parkland shooting victims.

“I’m participating in the event to honor the 17 kids who died,” said Elizabeth Keith, an East Valley freshman. “I have real respect for them.”

Coeur d’Alene High School

Several hundred students from Coeur d’Alene High School’s 1,400-member student body participated in Wednesday’s walkout.

The 25-minute event focused on encouraging students to register to vote and contact their congressional representatives about solutions to gun violence.

“Schools are supposed to be a place where students feel safe to learn and grow,” said Ashley Romanowski, one of the organizers of the walkout. “They shouldn’t have to worry if their school is going to be shot up that day.”

Romanowski, a senior, read from a letter the students signed and planned to send to members of Congress. It called for stronger background checks for gun owners, more mental health resources and improved anti-bullying programs.

“We know there isn’t a perfect solution to ending gun violence, but something is better than nothing,” the letter said. “We are asking you to get the conversation going and get something done, because enough is enough.”

Sophomore John Marfice walked out of his history class to attend the assembly. He had watched a Snapchat video of the Parkland shooting and heard the gunshots.

“I’ve been pro-gun,” Marfice said. “I’m not calling for a gun ban, but we do need regulation.”

“There are so many issues that go into this – guns, mental health and bullying,” he said of mass shootings.

Romanowski and Annika Silk, the walkout’s other organizer, said they were thrilled with the turnout. High school students are learning about government, but few are involved in the political process, Silk said. She encouraged students to contact their congressional representatives and make their voices heard, no matter their age.

“Voter registration is pretty low in our age group,” said Silk, a senior who will turn 18 this spring and plans to register to vote.

The assembly ended with a moment of silence for the 17 people killed in the Parkland shooting. Students who returned to class at the end of the walkout were not marked truant.

Coeur d’Alene High School Principal Troy Schueller broadcast a message over the intercom before the walkout. He told students it was their constitutional right to choose whether to participate.

“As your principal, I’m asking you to do the Viking thing,” he said. “Be kind, work hard and stay humble.”

This story was written and reported by Kip Hill, Thomas Clouse, Nathanael Massey, Rachel Alexander, Chad Sokol, Becky Kramer and Amy Edelen.