Hundreds of students left class Wednesday, March 14, 2018, at Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, Arizona, to protest for better gun control after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
Hundreds of Arizona students started their day Wednesday by walking out of class to hold demonstrations on campus as part of National Walkout Day. They gathered to honor the 17 victims killed last month in a shooting in a Florida high school and call for an end to gun violence in America.
About 45 students in white T-shirts ended the day with a sit-in at Gov. Doug Ducey’s office, demanding to speak to him about gun violence in school and chanting “Shame on Ducey.”
Ducey did not make an appearance and a democratic state lawmaker convinced the students to leave peacefully after about two hours.
At Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, hundreds of students walked onto the campus football field at about 10 a.m. Some wore orange shirts for gun-control awareness.
Students laid out giant letters on the 50-yard line that spelled “ENOUGH.”
They read the names of the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting and stood in silence for about seven minutes. Some bowed their heads, others clenched their fists in the air as a TV helicopter whirred above them.
Rylee Tinnel, a Mountain Ridge senior who organized her school’s demonstration, said the Florida massacre “sparked something in me that someone needs to say something.”
“It’s time to stand up and change the way things are for everyone,” Tinnel said.
Cassidy Crane, a senior, said she’s frustrated by the inaction on this issue.
“The government is not doing much right now. They’re trying to tell us that putting guns in the hands of teachers would be a better idea,” she said. “But we’re over here making more of an impact, and I know it’s not just our school. It’s schools across the nation doing the same thing as us. It just takes a couple of people to stand up. And once we show the government that we are a nation by the people, for the people, things will change.”
Students at more than 2,800 schools and colleges across the country had signed up to participate in walkouts, according to Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, which helped students coordinate the events.
Some schools threatened discipline if students left school property for Wednesday’s National School Walkout, as was seen in some of the immediate student action following the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day.
But it appeared that, in most cases, school administrators coordinated with student organizers to make accommodations for on-campus activities to help avoid students actually leaving school grounds.
Monica Allred, spokeswoman for the Deer Valley Unified School District, said school administrators “neither encouraged or discouraged” students to participate in the demonstration.
The district worked with student organizers to ensure the demonstration minimized disruption to the school day and maintained kids’ safety, Allred said.
Hundreds of other students at Mountain Ridge did not participate in the demonstration.
Which Arizona schools walked out?
Students walked out of classes in metro Phoenix, Flagstaff and Tucson. According to photos or videos posted to social media, walkouts occurred at these high schools:
- Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale
- Apollo High School in Glendale
- Deer Valley High School in Glendale
- Cactus High School in Glendale
- Raymond S Kellis High School in Glendale
- Liberty High School in Peoria
- Peoria High School in Peoria
- Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria
- Valley Vista High School in Surprise
- Dysart High School in El Mirage
- Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix
- Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix
- Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek
- Rincon High School in Tucson
- University High School in Tucson
- Amphitheater High School in Tucson
- Flowing Wells High School in Tucson
- Flowing Wells Junior High School in Tucson
- Palo Verde High Magnet School in Tucson
- Desert View High School in Tucson
- Flagstaff High School in Flagstaff
- BASIS Peoria
A handful of Arizona elementary and middle schools also participated, including:
- Sonoran Foothills School, an elementary school in north Phoenix
- Cholla Middle School in Phoenix
- Gallego Intermediate Fine Arts Magnet School, a middle school in Tucson
Some schools had already experienced walkouts in the weeks following the Parkland shooting, most of them in East Valley communities, including Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and San Tan Valley.
Other schools tried to address the issue in advance.
Madison Traditional Academy, a K-8 school in north-central Phoenix, organized a “day of caring” in which middle-school-age students who expressed interest in participating in the National School Walkout held brief moments of silence in their classrooms.
Mike Duff, principal of Madison Traditional, told parents in a letter that the school’s intent was to allow older students to express themselves while protecting younger students who likely aren’t aware of “such horrible tragedies.”
MORE ON ARIZONA SCHOOL WALKOUTS, PROTESTS:
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Some of the state’s largest school districts are on spring break this week, including Mesa Public Schools, Chandler Unified School District, Tempe Union High School District and Gilbert Public Schools, explaining the apparent lack of participation from the East Valley.
Although rare, some students posted about why they would not be participating.
Afternoon at the Capitol
Some students spent the afternoon at the state Capitol, meeting with state lawmakers and holding a news conference demanding the Republican-led Legislature pass bills requiring background checks for all gun purchases and banning bump stocks, devices that allow semiautomatic rifles to mimic machine guns.
They also asked lawmakers for more school counselors.
Dozens of students wearing white T-shirts packed the gallery in the Arizona House of Representatives.
Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, asked the students to stand as Democratic legislators introduced them individually by name. She said the number of massacres in recent decades makes the students “the generation of mass shootings in America.”
“We have become sitting ducks in nearly every setting of our lives, from classrooms to movie theaters,” Blanc said.
Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, asked the House to observe a 17-minute time of silence — one minute for each victim killed in the Parkland shooting.
But House Speaker J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, said the chamber would instead recognize a shorter moment of silence. As the moment ended, students in the gallery yelled, “Never again,” and walked out.
Into the governor’s office
About 45 students later filed into Ducey’s lobby to try to talk to him about the issue.
Ducey’s staff said he was not at the Capitol.
Six Department of Public Safety officers observed as the governor’s Education Policy Adviser Dawn Wallace listened to the sometimes loud and frustrated crowd share their fears about being killed at school.
“We feel like we are not getting through,” 18-year-old Arizona State University student Ethan Buhrow shouted to Wallace. “You feel attacked? We’re worried about getting shot when we go to school!”
Eventually, after being criticized by the students for patronizing them, Wallace left, shaken and tearful, though she promised to deliver the message to the governor that the group was serious about meeting.
Eric Flayton, a Chaparral High School student, said the group was hoping to receive validation for their cause from lawmakers and establish a constructive dialogue.
But, Flayton said, the day was “a swing and a miss,” and said their efforts were “trivialized” by lawmakers.
Students protest against gun violence at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on March 14, 2018. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral.com
“It’s been a lot of disappointment but I’m glad we got some action out of it,” Flayton said. “I think the silver lining is that we made a headline and that people now see that teens, not only in other parts of the country, but here in Arizona, are active and care about guns and school safety.”
He said the activists will continue to push their message.
“And if our elected leaders and the adults can’t fix things that we want to change, then we’re going to,” he said.
After a discussion among themselves regarding whether they would leave peacefully or be arrested, Blanc encouraged them to follow her out of the building.
“You guys have done amazing today,” said Blanc, D-Tempe. “I don’t want to see you arrested.”
Jordan Harb, 17, a student at Mountain View High School in Mesa, helped organize the March for Our Lives event at the Capitol, but he described it as a spontaneous event spurred by the Florida high school shooting.
Harb said he delivered a letter to the governor’s staff that requests better background checks on gun purchases, more psychologists, a ban on bump stocks and to meet with the governor.
“We are leaving peacefully with the expectation we will get that meeting,” Harb said as he exited the office.
After the protest, Ducey’s staff issued a statement.
“Governor @DougDucey appreciates the passion of the students who visited his office today,” said a message on Twitter from his spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato. “He shares their urgency for action to enhance school safety. He is not currently at the state Capitol but his staff listened to the students and will brief him on the discussion.”
Ducey recently had nine meetings March 5-6 with people around the state to listen to what thoughts and ideas they had on school safety in the wake of the shooting in Florida. Those meetings included a talk with the Governor’s Youth Commission, as well as law enforcement, mental health experts, school superintendents, county attorneys, and others.
Part of a wave of student protests
Wednesday’s national walkout is the latest in a wave of student demonstrations to spring up locally and nationally following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
On the East Coast, thousands of students staged walkouts — many of them marching outside the U.S. Capitol — demanding an end to gun violence.
In Parkland, police lined the streets as students from the high school and a nearby middle school walked two miles from their school to memorials set up for the victims. The students, who rejected requests from administrators to return to class, chanted, “We want change!”
At least four marches are planned across Arizona in solidarity with a massive Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives rally on March 24 that is expected to attract hundreds of thousands of people advocating for gun control and school safety.
Republic reporter Lauren Castle and the USA TODAY NETWORK contributed to this article.
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