Students across the country participated in the nationwide school walkout on Wednesday to protest school violence and shootings.
Dozens of Roseburg High School students left their classrooms at 10 a.m. and stood in an outdoor courtyard for 17 minutes, a tribute to the 17 students who were killed in a school shooting one month ago in Parkland, Florida.
The students were advised by administrators, who were standing at the gates, to stay on campus during the protest, but six students walked out to Harvard Avenue in front of the school.
There they stood in a circle, held hands, bowed their heads, closed their eyes and stood quietly for several minutes.
“It’s not a protest if we listen to what they want us to do,” senior Atrayu Yamashita said. “It’s a walkout. We walked out.”
Aliyah Abushanab, a junior, added, “We shouldn’t get in trouble for practicing our first amendment right. ... Stand up for what you believe in and spread positivity.”
What they believe in is stricter gun laws. Several of the students said they own guns, but they want stricter laws when it comes to assault weapons.
“We want to know how many of our peers have to die before they take us seriously,” Yamashita said, referring to lawmakers.
Emily Jones added that society has turned a blind eye to violence of any kind.
Several adults also came out to support the students, including Kim Wilbur and Phyllis Finnay.
“I’d be decimated if something happened to my grandchildren,” Finnay said. “But I’m here supporting all children. It’d be lovely if the NRA wouldn’t contribute to Congress.”
Wilbur, a retired school counselor, said she was appalled that not more people showed up to protest in a community where nine people died as a result of a mass shooting.
Superintendent Gerry Washburn said students have a right to express their opinion, so long as their actions are peaceful, safe, and don’t interfere with the education of others.
“In my perfect world, kids would figure some other way to have their views known,” he said.
It is unclear how many students participated in walkouts at other schools in Douglas County. Students at Umpqua Community College, where a gunman killed nine people in 2015, didn’t hold a walkout. Instead, the student government set up a table with a sign that read “We stand in unity to end violence in our schools #BeTheOne” and offered orange wrist bands that said “I am the one,” and “Be the one.”
Roseburg Public Schools released a statement Tuesday saying it was made aware of the possibility of student-led walkouts, vigils and protests regarding gun violence and school safety.
“As a District, we cannot encourage nor discourage students from participating. Students have the right to freedom of speech and expression while at school, so long as that speech or expression does not substantially disrupt the education process,” the statement signed by Washburn read. “Students will not be disciplined for their participation as long as they remain safe, respectful, and responsible, and act in a manner that is not disruptive to the school environment.”
However, principal Jill Weber said Tuesday that the media would not be allowed on campus to cover the event.
“We are not going to allow media on campus during the school day on the 14th. If you want to speak with students off campus at a later time, you may do that,” she said in an email.
Washburn explained the campus would be closed during instructional time, and that the school district does not have a policy regarding interviewing or recording student actions on campus other than school-sponsored activities, and the walkout is not a school-sponsored activity.
“Allowing the press to report on (the walkout) would give the impression that it is a school-sponsored activity so I can’t do that,” Washburn said. “The intent is not to infringe on the freedom of the press. We’ve never stopped you from being on campus for any school-sponsored activity and we never would, it’s just ... my interpretation, and everyone else’s interpretation, is this is not a school-sponsored activity, therefore, we can’t provide access.”
Roseburg Public Schools encourages students who do not feel safe to reach out to Safe Oregon to talk about bullying, violence, drugs or threats of violence made against the school or a student.