Students organizing walkouts at Utah County schools to end gun violence

March 3, 2018 GMT

It was 2013. Kaylee Anderson’s mom was running in the Boston Marathon and the family was there to support her.

Then the bombs went off.

For Anderson, watching students come together following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people reminded her of watching the running community band together after the Boston Marathon bombing.

“I was just blown away by how it destroyed so many people’s lives and their passions to run,” said Anderson, a junior at Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs. “As marathoners, they came together and as students, they came together, so I really wanted to be a part of that.”

Anderson is one of a handful of Utah County students who have arranged walkouts to protest gun violence in schools. The walkouts, which will be held nationwide at 10 a.m. March 14, have been organized by students for Timpview High School in Provo, Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, Brigham Young University in Provo, Mountain View High School in Orem and at Rockwell Charter High School in Eagle Mountain.

The walkouts are organized by local participants in the ENOUGH: National School Walkout, which is being organized by Women’s March Youth EMPOWER to demand congressional action on federal gun reform.

The walkout will last for 17 minutes to represent the 17 people killed in the Parkland shooting.

“This should not be a normal thing that happens in America,” Anderson said.

She estimates more than 30 Westlake High School students will participate and has been surprised by how many students have asked her for more details on the walkout.

“I was really hesitant about doing it at Westlake,” Anderson said. “I didn’t think the kids were going to join me.”

School violence hits close to students at Mountain View High School in Orem, where five students were stabbed in a locker room in 2016. Desi Crane, a junior at Mountain View High School, said students thought afterwards how much worse the attack could have been if the attacker had a gun instead of a knife.

“They are aware of it and they know that school violence is something that is real,” Crane said. “As a school, we want to do anything we can to stop anything like that from happening.”

She organized a walkout at her school after watching what was happening nationwide.

The plan is to pass out flyers at the school and talk to people about the event. So far, she’s seen a mixed response from the student body.

“Students I didn’t expect to be supportive have been extremely supportive,” Crane said. “A few wanted to debate about it. Most of the time it’s been students being enthusiastic about it.”

Utah County school districts plan to enforce normal attendance policies the day of the walkout, which means students will need a parent to call in to excuse them from class to avoid an unexcused absence. Teachers who want to participate will have to take time off for the walkout.

Lana Hiskey, spokeswoman for Nebo School District, said school will be held as normal.

“We encourage students to be kind and inclusive,” she said in an email.

Schools in Alpine School District and Provo City School District may turn the 17 minutes into an chance for students to learn about civic engagement.

Todd McKee, the director of secondary education in Provo City School District, told the district’s board of education he wants teachers to model civil engagement and civil dialogue.

“I really do believe there is a teaching moment in it for the kids,” McKee said Friday.

McKay Jensen, the president of the Provo City School District Board of Education, said he wants whatever is done to be more organic than writing an essay.

The district is not taking a stance on the walkout.

“Our position is we are supporting our district parents,” Jensen said.

Alpine School District plans to put out a statement that will say it understands the loss of life on a school campus and the interest students have in civic engagement, according to Kimberly Bird, spokeswoman for Alpine School District.

She said the district supports students’ constitutional right for peaceful assembly and expression.

The district plans to have principals work with student and parent leadership teams to find way to take advantage of the 17 minutes and provide alternative activities to a walkout.

“A hundred percent of us are committed to ending school violence,” Bird said. “That is the topic we are interested in.”

Alternative activities could include encouraging students to wear the same color, organizing discussions or inviting community leaders in to speak and listen to students.

“Our goal is we hope it is a day that is helpful and makes a difference,” Bird said.

Plans are in the early stages and the district is encouraging students and teachers to stay on campus during the walkout.

But alternative options to a walkout won’t be as powerful as seeing students walk out of their school for 17 minutes, according to Kat Pinheiro, a junior at Rockwell Charter High School in Eagle Mountain who has organized a March 14 walkout there.

“Saying hi to 17 people or talking to 17 people, that isn’t going to start a movement against gun violence,” Pinheiro said.

She heard about the walkouts at other schools on social media. The original idea was to combine Rockwell Charter and Westlake high school’s walkouts and form a chain of students between the two schools.

Pinheiro said many in her community think the walkout is a joke, but she’s optimistic it will lead to more action.

“I definitely have hope it will lead to something,” she said.

At Westlake High School, Anderson isn’t concerned about making sure her parents excuse her from school from the 17 minutes because it’s a cause she believes in.

“It is more important than an absence in school,” Anderson said.