Lakewood students walk out in support of safe schools but also in protest against violence

LAKEWOOD – The last time Lakewood High School students walked out of class was 3 1/2 years ago after the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.

They went to the old grandstands and sat in the formation of a heart to show their support for M-P.

Students walked out of school March 14, but it had a different feeling. Sure, it was to show support for the 17 victims in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. They walked for 17 minutes around the school’s new track. Schools nationwide, including in Arlington and Marysville, planned similar rallies. The one at M-P, where five students died in a murder-suicide, was closed to the public.

But students in one of Jeff Sowards history classes at LHS right after the event said this walkout was more of a protest against school violence. “This had more purposes,” Sowards said.

The “voices” on the track varied, from solidarity and awareness to support, change and remembrance, students said.

Asked what will happen after the walkout, most said, “Nothing.”

Student Jacob Flannery said that’s why he didn’t participate in the walkout. “It’s not effective,” he said, adding he “observed silence” out of respect for the victims in the classroom instead.

To really make a difference students said a walkout would need to be longer and farther reaching.

Others were more optimistic, saying the discussion on possible solutions is continuing.

Sowards asked if the students feel safe at LHS. All said they did, adding that everyone knows each other since it’s a small school. Even a student from China, where there are no guns, said he feels just as safe here.

But student Carson Shinkle said, “Everybody feels safe until something happens.”

Sowards added that, “All voices are valuable.” He said youth do have a voice and pointed out that the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, was the fastest one ever, taking only three months.

As to why so much has happened after the shooting in Florida compared with other school shootings, students said because of the large number of victims and also because instead of being victims in that community they actively protested for change immediately and caught the attention of the national media.

And to why so many shootings are happening at schools, students said answers like fame, impulse, bullying, revenge, and easy opportunity as they know where everyone is.

Someone brought up the issue of mental illness. “Talking about mental illness is hard in our society,” Sowards said, but added it needs to be done.

Sowards encouraged students to get information from a variety of sources, and “Don’t be afraid to doubt.”

Jordan Gondaled, like Flannery, also did not walk. His reason, though, was because he felt the organizers at LHS had an agenda of more gun control, and that’s not the issue. He said those who want to ban certain guns are uninformed. He said this case should focus more on an inept FBI and local law enforcement.

As for solutions for a safer school, he doesn’t think armed teachers is a good idea. “Don’t add that burden on teachers,” he said.

He does like the idea of having veterans helping out at school, however.

As for gun control, he said adding an extra step to education would be good and only an “inconvenience.”

Meanwhile, out on the track, John and Deborah Towner were supporting their granddaughter, Emma Seth, who helped organize the LHS walkout.

“This gun thing is out of control,” Deborah said. “I’m in a place where I just can’t keep quiet anymore.” School has to be a “safe place for our kids.”

She said she was surprised there wasn’t this kind of outbreak after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary years ago. “Young people are rising up with their voices,” she added.

Assistant Principal Matt Blair said he was proud of the students. “I love it. The kids went about it the right way. They didn’t just walk out of class,” he said, adding they worked with the school on a plan.

He said students made a video that was shown the day before so they would understand what the walkout was about. “This was their opportunity to have a voice,” he said. “It’s not required, which is also a voice – that it’s not for me.”

Each class debriefed after the walkout. “Grassroots can be powerful,” Blair said. “Schools love that perspective.”

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