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Students throughout Chicago area to stage walkouts today for gun reform

Chicago Tribune

Wednesday, March 14, 2018  |  Article  |  Vikki Ortiz Healy

Guns and Gun Control, FOID, Concealed Carry (46)

Students across the Chicago area plan to walk out of school Wednesday, adding their voices to a chorus of young people across the country who are calling for gun reform.

Through walkouts they’ve been planning for weeks, students in the city and suburbs plan to honor the 17 killed one month ago in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and to bring attention to gun violence in Chicago and elsewhere.

High school students from Barrington to Plainfield to Naperville to Chicago have worked with peers and school administrators, and prepared signs and speeches as part of a national movement designed to prevent mass shootings and gun violence that have devastated their schools and communities for decades.

They’re taking a social media rallying cry to the streets in what organizers call the National School Walkout, and their message is loud and clear: #Enough.

“I think our students and our teachers are leveraging this movement to inspire and influence more change and more awareness,” said Diana Shulla-Cose, co-founder and president of Perspectives Charter Schools in Chicago, where many of Wednesday’s walkout participants have lost friends or family members to gun violence. “It’s rooted in heartache, in deep mourning, but there’s a sense of rising up right now and that feels good.”

The swift mobilization of students across Illinois is an uprising that some school administrators say they haven’t seen in decades, and one that shows no signs of slowing down.

Wednesday’s walkouts come two weeks after hundreds of high school students across the Chicago area walked out of school on Feb. 21, and another walkout is planned for April 20 — the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. In a nationwide rally called March for Our Lives scheduled for March 24, students, parents and gun control advocates plan to take to the streets of Washington, D.C., Chicago and other cities across the country.

As students organized walkouts, educators were left to strike a delicate balance between encouraging young people’s civic engagement and the need to keep them safe.

While schools have the right to discipline students for not being present in class, many school officials have been supportive of the student-led walkouts and collaborated with student organizers to plan walkouts that are safe, meaningful and nonpolitical.

Even in districts where hundreds of students walked out last month, administrators this week geared up for another demonstration. At Schaumburg High School, more than half of the school’s 2,100 student walked out on Feb. 21, and district spokesman Tom Peterson said he expected another large demonstration Wednesday.

“They have the right to be heard in the manner that they want to be heard. We just want to help facilitate that and make sure they’re safe when they do that.”

Schaumburg administrators did not discipline students for participating in the earlier walkout and didn’t plan to do so after Wednesday’s walkout either.

Other school districts worked with student leaders to plan alternative gatherings, including meetings with local legislators or indoor rallies. Teachers and staff at schools where walkouts are planned will continue instruction for students who disagree with or don’t want to join the walkouts.

At Plainfield Community School District 202, administrators worked quickly in the last two weeks to come up with an alternative consequence for students who participate in walkouts Wednesday. Students will have the choice of attending a one-hour interactive forum with a state representative or state senator organized by district officials, or they can serve a traditional one-hour, after-school detention.

“I am particularly proud of our students for standing up for their beliefs, and for their commitment to making positive change,” District 202 Superintendent Lane Abrell wrote in a letter to parents this week. “At the same time, we recognize some students for a variety of reasons do not wish to participate in a walkout.”

Groups including the ACLU have offered training and tips to guide students, many of whom are becoming civically engaged for the first time. The Women’s March Youth Empower group, an offshoot of the Women’s March that fueled plans for the nationwide school walkout and march, posted an eight-page “#Enough! National School Walkout Tool Kit” on its website, offering to connect young organizers with seasoned activist mentors, providing templates for writing to school principals and including a live database of walkouts being planned across the U.S.