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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane-area schools prepare for student walkouts demanding stricter gun control

In September, after the shooting at Freeman High School, students at Lewis and Clark High School wrote what they are thankful for on sticky notes, and administrators arranged them to spell out “Freeman Strong” on the school’s skywalk in downtown Spokane. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Some of her classmates say it’s no use, that nothing can – or will – be done to prevent another mass shooting.

But Christina Morrison, a junior at Freeman High School, says she’ll walk out of class at 10 a.m. on April 20, along with thousands of students across the country, to press lawmakers for stricter gun control. She said a few classmates plan to join her for the demonstration, and she hopes to rally more in the coming weeks.

“I think if we stand up and say we are tired of seeing kids get hurt and seeing kids die, like, every other week on the news, it could make a big statement,” Morrison said. “I really believe that the situation in America with mass shootings has gotten out of control completely. Whether (the walkout) does nothing or does something, we have to try, in my opinion.”

Morrison, 16, was among the students who escaped from a second-floor hallway at Freeman High, where a sophomore boy opened fire on Sept. 13, killing one student and injuring three others. Morale at the school has improved since then, but some still feel hopeless, or they’re easily scared by loud noises like balloons popping, she said.

“Things have slowly been getting better, but it’s still a really touchy topic for some people,” she said. “I feel like most people have gotten over the initial shock, and now they’re in the state of doing something.”

Freeman schools superintendent Randy Russell didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Tuesday, but Morrison said teachers and administrators are “fully aware” that students plan to walk out on April 20, and possibly on other dates.

The nationwide student-walkout campaign has been coordinated on social media in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people last Wednesday.

Several students also have told Marybeth Smith, the principal at Lewis and Clark High School, that they plan to walk out on various dates. She couldn’t say if she would support such a demonstration, but said she appreciates the students’ passion.

Lewis and Clark is part of Spokane Public Schools, the largest district in the area.

District spokesman Kevin Morrison said superintendent Shelley Redinger’s team would meet with the district’s legal counsel and possibly some school board members on Wednesday. They’ll determine how teachers and principals should respond to student walkouts.

“The first thing you need to do is make sure the kids are safe,” said Steve Fisk, the principal at North Central High School. Beyond that, he said, common sense goes a long way.

Fisk said that years ago, when he was the principal at Hood River Valley High School in Oregon, half of the school’s students walked off campus to protest a change in federal immigration policy. Teachers had stay on campus with the students who weren’t marching, so Fisk and the school’s custodian supervised the demonstration by riding along in a golf cart, he said.

Marla Nunberg Genther, spokeswoman for the Central Valley School District, said Tuesday that administrators weren’t aware if any students in the district were planning to walk out, and they didn’t have specific plans for responding to such a demonstration.

“We’re keeping our ears to the ground,” she said.

In addition to the walkout, Morrison, the Freeman student, said she is helping plan a community forum on Thursday.

She is demanding, among other measures, a ban on assault rifles such as the AR-15, more stringent background checks and age requirements for owning various types of firearm. Additionally, she said, gun owners should be required to keep their guns in locked safes, out of reach of children.

The Freeman shooter was armed with an AR-15, but it jammed. The rifle, designed for military and law enforcement use, is a common choice of weapon among mass shooters.

Morrison said it’s time for students to make their voices heard on this issue.

The next victim, she said, “could be your younger sibling. It could be your child, your grandchild, your cousin. It could be anybody.”