ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Students across the U.S. and in the St. Louis area walked out of class at 10 a.m. local time Wednesday (March 14) for 17 minutes as part of a national demonstration to honor the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida one month ago.
The national organization behind the protest, Empower, is calling on Congress to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks before gun sales, and pass a gun violence restraining order law that would allow courts to disarm people who show signs of violent behavior.
Northeast Middle School Principal Jennifer Sebold said she was approached by students who wanted to support the national walk out, but they wanted to know if they would get in trouble for participating in the demonstration. Sebold said she encouraged the students to create a plan, and as long as they were safe, she would support them exercising their first amendment right.
An estimated more than 400 students who attend Northeast Middle School participated in the walkout. Sebold said it was more an half the student population of the school which has grades six through eight. Dozens of teachers, faculty and Creve Coeur police officers monitored the demonstration.
"Just because you're a kid, just because you're under 18, doesn't mean that your opinion doesn't matter," said eighth-grader Audrey Richardson. "You have the same right to say what you want as anyone else. You have the right to stand up for what you believe in."
While chanting phrases like "enough is enough," students carried signs with messages like "Parkway Supports Parkland," "Sacrifice Guns, Not Kids," and "Will there be 17 more?" Cars and trucks honked their horns as they passed the group.
Many of the students learned about the shooting in Parkland through social media. Sebold said her students, who range in age from 11 to 14 years old, were able to watch videos that were "very graphic."
"It's always something you see on the news until it actually happens," said 6th grader Imaan Tahir. "I've watched the videos about the students in Parkland. It's scary. They were talking about how they thought they were safe, but one day it happened and they were scared."
On the other hand, students used social media to communicate with each other to coordinate and promote the walk out. Seventh-grader Niah Ester said they sent out messages telling students to "wear orange," the color associated with gun violence awareness. She also created an infographic to share with her classmates containing statistics about gun violence as it relates to kids and schools.
"It was saddening to me because I feel like no kid should have to lose their life because of one person who got a hold of a gun that shouldn't have had it," said Ester. "That's really scary that that could happen to kids like our friends, or that could've been us."
The school sent an email to parents letting them know of the walkout plan. Sebold said she did not receive any pushback from students or parents. The school arranged supervision for students who chose not to participate in Wednesday's walk out.