That’s the feeling that crept over Summer McGhee, a 16-year-old Woodward High School student, as she watched the details of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting unfold.
“This could happen anywhere,” she said. “What if that happened to your child or cousin or something? This should be stopped.”
With concerns over school safety on the rise, students nationwide are taking matters into their own hands to memorialize the dead and call for stricter gun laws. From coast to coast, thousands of students plan to stage walkouts Wednesday to protest gun violence, exactly one month after a deadly shooting inside a South Florida high school left 17 people dead.
The walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which attracted thousands of people to Washington last year.
The group called for students to leave class at 10 a.m. local time to honor the lives of the 17 victims killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and “to protest Congress’ refusal to take action on the gun violence epidemic plaguing our schools and neighborhoods,” according to their website.
School districts across northwest Ohio worked with students and teachers to organize the protests on campus. While Woodward was the only school in Toledo Public Schools’ to officially register through the “National School Walkout” campaign, district officials arranged a day of observance for most buildings.
Activities Wednesday will range from community discussions about gun safety and school violence to a singing choir and balloon releases.
“We saw this as an opportunity for students to have a voice in regards to making decisions and be able to speak out about things that are happening around them,” said Linda Meyers, TPS transformational leader of K-12 education.
Malik Shabazz, an 18-year-old student at Woodward, said he would participate in Wednesday’s walkout to show respect for the victims and their families.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen,” he said. “It was just innocent people.”
Woodward High School student Timjyona Woodson, 18, talks about gun violence in schools.
Empower teamed up with students at Bowling Green High School to organize a walkout. Names of the 17 victims from the Parkland massacre will be read, followed by a moment of silence and a series of short speeches.
Senior Luther Shinew helped organize the event. He said the national walkout is a good start, but legislative action is needed.
“We need to make sure the people in power hear us,” Luther said. “These kids right now can’t vote, but they will be a large part of the voting population over the next few years. The end goal is actually to get change, not just stand on the lawn.”
Students are responsible for any work they may miss during the event.
Northview and Southview high schools in Sylvania will also hold walkouts.
“Learning experiences happen inside and outside the classroom,” said Superintendent Adam Fineske in a letter emailed to the district’s parents on Tuesday. “We hope that tomorrow’s walk out and the structure provided by students planning the event will help their voices carry across the nation and make a lasting impact on a crucial concern for their, and our, world.”
Whitmer High School students also plan to leave class Wednesday. Freshman Cassius Bialy, 15, said classmates plan to congregate at the football stadium and wear black and red.
He said it’s unlikely he’ll join them.
“I don’t think we need to worry about it as much,” Cassius said. “We don’t have to worry about going to school and people bringing guns and knives.”
Cassius added he feels safe at Whitmer.
Woodward High School student Victor Hernandez, 18, said he thought the Florida shooting was a great loss, and he was concerned with the "terror someone can do inside of a school."
Bedford Schools Superintendent Carl Shultz addressed the National Student Walkout in a letter posted on the schools’ website. High school students who participate will not be penalized and are expected to be back in class after the activity.
Students are permitted to use the community stadium, while middle schoolers wishing to participate may gather in the cafeteria. Both environments will be supervised.
On Tuesday, Toledo city council member Nick Komives introduced a resolution calling for state lawmakers to take action on gun control.
“People are tired of what’s happening, and it’s time to see some action,” Mr. Komives said. “I applaud the efforts of young people who are in school who are making moves and demanding that something be done, and I look forward to supporting school walkouts tomorrow.”
The resolution calls for the state to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines or clips that can hold more than 10 bullets at a time; to require all gun-buyers to pass a criminal background check; and to support funding and access to mental health and substance abuse treatment.
The resolution passed with council member Tom Waniewski, the lone Republican present, voting against the measure. Republican Rob Ludeman and Democrat Peter Ujvagi were both absent for the vote.
Staff writer Sarah Elms contributed.
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