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For San Diego Students, School Walkout Is A Warm-Up For The Ballot Box

An empty chair at Patrick Henry High School commemorates Parkland, Florida, s...

Photo by Megan Burks

Above: An empty chair at Patrick Henry High School commemorates Parkland, Florida, school shooting victim Peter Wang, March 12, 2018.

For San Diego Students, School Walkout Is A Warm-Up For The Ballot Box

GUEST:

Megan Burks, reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

Monday morning, 17 empty chairs appeared in the quad at Patrick Henry High School in San Carlos. On each sat a rose and a photo.

The installation set the tone for a week of commemoration and action following the school shooting deaths of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“I would say 90 percent of it’s student-driven, which is a misconception we have on campus. They think admin (sic) is involved and they’re not really involved,” said Ashlee Watson, 17. “A lot of effort has gone into it, a lot of communication, a lot of work outside of school.

“We got to school at 7 o’clock this morning just to set up the chairs, so it’s very passion-driven.”

Watson is one of about a dozen students who have spent the past four weeks planning for Wednesday’s school walkout at Patrick Henry. They join students across the country who, under the youth arm of the Women’s March organization, are leading demonstrations to stand in solidarity with the students at Stoneman Douglas as they push for gun control legislation to protect schools.

RELATED: How San Diego Schools Handle Threats Of Mass Violence

More than 30 area schools have signed up on the Women’s March website to host walkouts.

While all of those may not be sanctioned by their principals, schools in San Diego County have largely worked with their students to plan safe events where students can exercise their rights, while those who wish to abstain can remain in class.

On some campuses, that means assemblies. On others, it means student-led walkouts with staff supervision. Those who walk out may face unexcused absences, but the American Civil Liberties Union says they cannot be suspended for the action.

Photo by Megan Burks

Patrick Henry High School senior Ashlee Watson, 17, makes a sign to advertise a voter registration drive at her school, March 12, 2018.

RELATED: San Diego Students Likely Won’t Face Suspensions For School Walkout Against Gun Violence

The student organizers at Patrick Henry said it was important not to make their school’s walkout too political, so as many students as possible would feel comfortable participating. The walkout agenda focuses on remembering the Parkland victims and on students supporting one another.

Throughout the week, they’ll also staff a mental health resource booth during lunch and another where students can get information about contacting their Congressional representatives. Computers in three classrooms will be available for students to register to vote. Californians can now pre-register at age 16.

Maya Klareich, 17, said seeing the students from Parkland take clear, tangible steps to influence change informed their planning.

“The thing that really inspired me the most was watching the students in Parkland who went to the town hall, who were speaking up, who were giving speeches, who were really making a stance about how this is something we can change,” she said. “I think that our generation can change the political climate.

“I think that we kind of forget that sometimes and I feel like I was probably falling victim to that until I saw those students stand up for what they believe in. And I was thinking to myself, ‘Just because I’m in San Diego doesn’t mean I can’t do the same thing.’”

Photo by Megan Burks

Patrick Henry High School senior Maya Klareich, 17, makes a sign for a school walkout, March 12, 2018.

It seems the nation’s adults are paying attention, too, with many saying the response to Parkland feels different than previous responses to school shootings.

Students demanding change met with the president. Less than a month after the shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation raising the minimum age and extending the waiting period for gun purchases, and increasing funding for mental health services and police in schools. Other states and the White House have moved to restrict “bump stocks.” And two major retailers have stopped selling AR-15 rifles.

Klareich agrees things are different this time.

“Yes, school shootings happened prior to 1999 Columbine, but they’ve been happening a lot more since then,” she said. “High school seniors were born in either 1999 or 2000, so we’ve really be the generation to grow up with this. So I think that’s why, specifically with this set of issues, why we’re so ready to be leaders and so ready to take action.”

Klareich and her classmates will take action at 10 a.m. Wednesday for 17 minutes and again March 24 at Waterfront Park for the March for Our Lives. But they say their biggest push is the voter registration drive.

“I think they don’t know what’s coming for them,” said Klareich of adults who doubt her generation. “We have the numbers and we have the voices, and we’re not afraid to use them.”

More than 30 San Diego-area schools have signed up to host walkouts against school gun violence Wednesday.

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