Oregon students send message: They want safer schools
Hundreds of David Douglas High School students walked out of class Wednesday morning and gathered to demand safer schools. The assembly was orderly and quietly dispersed when the speeches and activities were over. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, hundreds of students streamed out of Portland’s David Douglas High School and gathered under a blue sky and the cherry blossoms, part of a day of student protests.
“The why isn’t just a chance to miss school,” said senior Anwar Sheikh, student body president and one of the walkout organizers. “The why is to advocate against violence in general and for safety in schools.”
The Feb. 14 shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School rattled David Douglas students and staff, and sparked similar walkouts at schools across Oregon and the United States.
“That school could have been our school,” said senior David Goncharuk, another member of David Douglas’ Walkout Committee.
David Douglas students, struck by the similarity in size and name of the Florida school, organized a program, created posters, filmed a video and set up speakers. For the walkout, they wore white T-shirts with bloody bullet holes in them. Students listened respectfully to speeches and a spoken-word performance, then observed 17 seconds of silence. They peacefully returned to class.
Since the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, teens have been actively engaged in a national conversation about school safety and American gun policies. In Oregon, students have walked out of classes, held die-ins at school offices, protested at the Capitol and marched to local congressional offices. Hundreds of students rallied peacefully Wednesday outside the state Capitol in Salem.
“The kids have had it,” said David Douglas Principal John Bier. He said he was impressed with the students’ maturity and organization. “They are doing it the right way. It’s hard not to support that.”
Bier said there would be no consequences for students leaving class.
“We respect our students' right to protest,” David Douglas School Board Chair Christine Larsen said in an email before the walkout.
Oregon schools have taken a variety of approaches. Portland Public Schools has supported the walkouts by treating them as “learning exercises.” Some Oregon schools have planned class discussions and activities as an option instead of walkouts. Many districts have said the walkouts will be treated the same as any other unexcused absence.
The “Enough: National School Walkout” called on students around the country to walk out of classes at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes, one minute for every person killed in Parkland. Student leaders said the walkouts sent messages ranging from nonpolitical support for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community to impassioned calls for action on school safety and gun control.
Students from thousands of U.S. schools protested Wednesday, from silent walkouts to demonstrations and speeches. Thousands of teens protested in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.
More student action is coming.
Oregon students have been heavily involved in planning for the Saturday, March 24, “March For Our Lives” protests. National organizations are organizing a march on Washington, D.C., to call for school safety and gun control, and supporting protests are being organized around Oregon.
Activists have also called for a national high school walkout on Friday, April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine, Colorado, school shooting. Many students point to this shooting when saying that they have had to live with the fear of school shootings all their lives. Organizers are encouraging students to walk out at 10 a.m. to a common school space and remain out of class the rest of the day, with speeches and other activities up to local organizers.
OSBA has prepared answers to frequently asked questions to help districts with student protests. Property and Casualty Coverage for Education, Oregon's leading insurance pool for education, has also provided resources to student protests. A login is required.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA