Park City High students plan walkout for stricter gun control laws (w/video)
A little after 10 a.m. next Wednesday, some Park City High School students will lie motionless on the ground as their classmates hold a poster above them saying “I could be next.”
The so-called die-in will be part of a school walkout that is scheduled to take place in conjunction with similar events across the nation. The message of the students is clear: “We want gun control.”
“These guns are literally causing kids to die in schools and we’re done with it,” said Faith Staley, a senior at the school who is helping organize the walkout. “We’re being killed in places where we are supposed to be safe.”
Staley said that the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14 sparked a desire to act in students. Once the survivors started speaking out, students at Park City High began to find their voices too.
Several clubs and student organizations wanted to arrange a walkout to coincide with walkouts scheduled on the same day throughout the country. The groups eventually decided to plan together.
Staley said the plan is that students will leave their desks at 10 a.m. and begin chanting “Walkout” in the halls until they step beyond the school’s doors. They will walk to the senior parking lot and lie in the bus lane in silence for 17 minutes as Olivia Henry, a senior, raises a megaphone and counts down each minute with the dates, locations and number of deaths of the largest mass shootings in the U.S.
The walkout is scheduled to take place one month after the Parkland shooting, during which 14 students and three staff members were killed. The die-in is inspired by students in the group Teens for Gun Reform, who did a similar “lie-in” in front of the White House following the shooting last month.
Staley said that when the stories about the Parkland shooting started flooding the news, she deleted her social media accounts in order to get away from the images. She said she felt helpless and frustrated at all of the senseless deaths.
“We have this obvious blaring issue and we can’t do anything about it,” she said. “You start realizing there’s nothing you can do. That’s what it felt like.”
Once plans started kicking into gear for the walkout, she said that she started to feel empowered that students around the country could make a difference.
“It doesn’t feel powerless anymore,” she said. “It’s turning many tragedies into something positive and something real and something that incites change, hopefully.”
Henry, president of the suicide prevention group the HOPE Squad and also instrumental in the planning of the walkout, said that uniting as students has been powerful and inspiring for her, too. She was overwhelmed by the news of the shooting, especially since the Parkland victims and survivors were high school students like herself.
“To picture seniors who were attending Parkland who were planning out college and getting ready for prom and figuring out their plans for the weekend, and then their lives ended,” she said. “That brings this other level of relevance to us because they are kids our age and were in a school environment.”
Each student has a different reason to participate.
Henry hopes that the walkout will trigger conversations throughout the school and the community about gun and other violence that occurs in schools. Karsten Beling, a senior who also plans to participate, said that he wants to “pop people’s bubbles” and bring the relevance of the issue to all students at Park City High. Maya Levine, a junior, said that since she is not able to vote, this is her way to voice her opinion that she wants stricter gun laws.
Levine is also planning the community-wide March for Our Lives event scheduled for March 24, which is set to take place near Main Street. The march will also be focused on students’ demand for stricter gun control laws.
Jake Jobe, an English teacher who let students use his classroom to hold the planning meeting, said he is excited to see the students rise and take action, but it does not come as a shock that students around the country are organizing themselves.
“If you work with high school students, that is not surprising,” he said. “We see that in the classroom every day. They know a lot and they are super well informed.”
Jobe, who was accompanied by Kathleen Einhorn, interim principal, and Phyllis Suggett, assistant principal, stood by as students planned the event.
While there was some concern from administrators about not disrupting class time for students who do not want to participate, Einhorn told the students, “We support you.”
The Park City School District released a statement saying that it is neutral on the matter, but it “supports students’ constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free expression.”
Due to a state rule (R277-515-6), educators are not to “promote a personal opinion, personal issue or political position as part of the instructional process” and therefore should remain neutral.
The district’s statement also explains that if students do not return after the walkout, standard attendance rules will apply. School officials from South Summit High School and North Summit High School said that they had not heard of any plans of students to participate in protests.
Melinda Colton, spokesperson for the Park City School District, said that it is important that all students are respectful of others’ views.
“We have been impressed with students who are organizing and taking the initiative to express their opinions, and yet at the same time, we want every student’s voice to be heard,” she said.
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