In an unprecedented display of organization among American high school students, thousands of southwest Ohio students walked out of class Wednesday and participated in memorials stirred by the shooting deaths of 17 people one month prior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Scheduled around 10 a.m. at schools across the U.S., the local events varied widely depending on school districts and individual schools, with almost all events lasting less than a half-hour. Some involved short ceremonies inside of schools, while others included students stepping outside, even facing a variety of consequences for their actions.
The nationwide demonstrations heralded the opening salvo in American civic life for Generation Z, the post-Columbine generation largely too young to vote but natively ingrained in the internet and savvy with the organizing power of social media.
“We cannot allow these walkouts to be the extent of our activism,” said Suhavi Salmon, a junior at Springboro High School, where more than 500 students and junior high students left class. “Teenagers from high schools all across the nation have risen up to demand change. We spearheaded this movement. We did this.”
Springboro’s walkout occurred first among area schools, followed by near-synchronized walkouts around the region.
The walkout at Kettering Fairmont High School lasted seven minutes and attracted a few hundred students. Organizers read the names of the 17 Florida school shooting victims who were killed.
“I feel that school violence is not OK and that there shouldn’t be school shootings,” said Melinda Gnau, a sophomore. “These victims didn’t deserve it, and they had a future, and it was stopped because of a gun.”
Other students said it was important for them that the event be a remembrance of the Florida victims without political views. Students “wanted to make sure it wasn’t about politics,” said Fairmont senior Preston Collins.
At Oakwood High School, several students held signs in the cold as hundreds more listened to student speakers.
“We are sick of tragic shootings day after day,” said Sammy Caruso, a sophomore. “There have been multiple school shootings this year. The fact is one is too many.”
Several Oakwood students later traveled to the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus for a protest of more than 200 students. Senior Sara Laatz said they were there to remind lawmakers that they are future voters and make them aware that they’d be held accountable for their positions.
Centerville City Schools Superintendent Tom Henderson said about 400 of the high school’s 2,800 students participated in a walk-out on school grounds.
Another 20 students, he said, also demonstrated with signs in support of the National Rifle Association. All the demonstrating students, he said, signed a banner for the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“While the speeches were going on, these 20 students with a slightly different view listened and were respectful,” Henderson said. “At the end, they went up to the student leaders who organized the event and asked if they could sign the banner too.”
Although a letter to students from the high school principal said unexecused absences would be counted for participating students, Henderson on Wednesday said there would be no school-issued consequences for students who participated.
Not all school administrations were as on-board or forgiving of students who walked out of class.
About 10 students walked out of classes Wednesday morning at West Liberty-Salem High School as part of a national effort to support the victims of the Florida school shooting and to push for reforms. West Liberty-Salem was the site of a school shooting on Jan. 20, 2017. Two students were shot, one seriously injured.
Students who walked out will face consequences, West Liberty Superintendent Kraig Hissong said. An alternative memorial, led by one of the 2017 survivors, was held later in the day.
Other schools embraced alternatives to student demonstrations.
Each of the Dayton Public high schools had organized discussions about gun violence, except for Stivers School for the Arts, where students walked out of school for 17 minutes.
Stebbins High School students participated in “sit-ins,” said Mad River Local Schools Superintendent Chad Wyen.
“Our high school principal, Tina Simpson, facilitated the conversation during the sit-ins which revolved around school safety,” he said.
Plenty of parents and administrators expressed concern, or even opposition, to the walkouts and protests. Other parents saw the protests as an opportunity for their children to develop civic responsibility while using technology of the day.
“The tools they have now, the techonology that allows them to communicate, spread the word and rally — I just want to keep that momentum going,” said Oakwood parent Rob Degenhart.
The lion’s share of administrators interviewed Wednesday said they were impressed with the maturity of their students.
“Our community should be very proud of its high school students today,” said Lebanon City Schools Superintendent Todd Yohey. “For those that think teenagers don’t get it or don’t have a right to try and change their world, let today serve as evidence that you are wrong.”
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Staff Writers Laura A. Bischoff, Lawrence Budd, Nick Blizzard, Michael D. Clark, Parker Perry, Jeremy P. Kelley, Jim Otte and Richard Wilson contributed reporting.