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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, school shooting victim Peter Wang, March 12, 2018.
Megan Burks
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
For San Diego Students, School Walkout Is A Warm-Up For The Ballot Box GUEST:Megan Burks, reporter, KPBS News

>>> I am Maureen Cavanaugh it is Wednesday, March 14. Prosecutors in Florida Tuesday announced they would seek the death penalty against 19-year-old Nicholas Cruz. He has been charged with the deaths of 17 people in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school. That school shooting happened one month ago. Today, students across the country walked out of classrooms to remember the victims and urged lawmakers to pass stricter restrictions on guns. >> What we want, school safety, when do we want, now. >>> That is how the walkout sounded -- sounded at one send Eagle high school. Megan Burks is joining me now. Students in schools across the country walked out of classrooms at 10 AM in their respective time zones. Do you know how widespread national school walkouts were in San Diego? >> We know that 30 school signed up on the women's March website. They have a youth arm that was organizing this walkout nationwide. 30 local school signed up. That could have been more unorganized walkouts. I know that elementary and middle schools wanted to stage an event so students can discuss the issues. It was likely more than 30 in San Diego. >>> Remind us of the goals of the walkout. Why were students and some teachers doing this? >> They wanted to support the message come from the students at Parkland Florida calling for gun legislation. They have a list of demands on the women's March website including banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, expanding background checks, and enacting gun violence restraining order lot that we have already in California. The students at Patrick Henry high school what you heard earlier, in addition to calling for gun legislation, they wanted to call for togetherness and to combat some of the issues that cause people to pull the trigger. Let's hear from one of students. >> All you must do is pay attention. Look up from your cell phones, your SnapChat, your texts. Look up from your history notes, and your math homework. Look up from your college apps, look up from the soccer fields, from the stage and look up and look at each other. For just a moment. Make community your priority. Let us reach out and welcome those who are isolated so they don't feel compelled to take up arms against us. This fight is about more than just taking away guns. It's about taking away the reason to pull the trigger. >> That was 17-year-old Stephanie's appellee. >>> That happened that Patrick Henry high school where you are today. Tell us about what else took place during the walkout there. >> At 10 AM students streamed out of the classrooms. Many wearing black. It was very organized. It was quiet. People filed into the quad quickly. And immediately went into a moment of silence for the victims of Parkland. After that there was a speech from the student. They read one of the poems that he Parkland victim had written. The choir for the school had composed a song that they sing specifically for this event. >>> Besides the overall goals of the student walkout, what are people saying about what they hope will be the practical result of this action of actually taking the time out as a collective body to walk out of the school and to have this program? >> At Patrick Henry, they are seeing an outcome they are excited about. They are saying the campus has never felt like more of a community. As soon as the walkout was announced, somebody on campus put together and Instagram account. The organizers of the walkout talked about seeing the number of followers take -- tick up and up until they were 1400 followers. They feel like people are coming together and there's a sense of community and collective goals. They are really excited about that. >>> Students have responded to other issues in the past with walkout. Can you put this walkout in a bit of context for us? >> A lot of people are referring to the East LA walkouts in the 1960s. This month marks the 50th anniversary of those walkouts. Latino students at several different high schools were talking and realized they were all facing the same type of inequality in education. Without the Internet, the organized these walkouts at the same time students flooded the streets to call for better education opportunities. That is credited with a wave of youth Chicano activists. >>> In preparation of today's walkout, you spoke with one of the student organizers Meyer Claris. Here is her story. >> School shootings happened prior to 1999 Columbine. They have been having a lot more since then. High school seniors now were born either in 1999 or 2000. We have been the generation to come -- grow up with this. That's why with the set of issues why we are so ready to be leaders and to take action. >> My name is Meyer Claris. I am 17 and I go to Patrick Larry high school. I am a student leader involved in organizing the walkout for March 14. The thing that inspired me the most was watching the students in Parkland who went to the town hall and who are speaking up and giving speeches and who are making a stand about how this was something we can change. I think our generation can change the political climate. I think we have the power and voices to do so. I think we forget that sometimes. I feel like we were falling victim to that until I saw the student stand up for what they believed in. I was thinking to myself just because I'm in San Diego doesn't mean I cannot do the same thing. So we have been in contact with the walkout Instagram page. They have been posting frequently for us. They know about wearing black, they posted about the poster room being open for students to make posts for the walkout. We have all been hearing kids talk about this. In the center of our quad, we have 17 shares representing the 17 lives lost through the park when shooting. Those pictures of each person who was killed as well as their name and age and a rose. We have that going on from Monday through Friday. Tuesday through Thursday, we have a voter registration drive and two teachers have offered their classrooms to have all of their computers also students can register to vote. You can preregister when you're 16. We are publicizing to get as many people as possible preregistered as well as registered. Tuesday through Thursday we have two booths in our quad one being a mental health resource booth. We are taking process to end the stigma which is a large aspect of mental health I believe we are too scared to talk about it. And we also have a booth to contact your elected officials. We are making it broad enough so it's not just gun legislation. Whether that be mental health, school safety in general, we are giving kids those resources to really take the next step. In terms of me being a leader and being one of the people in charge of the walkout, that takes on a lot of similar qualities to what my mom does. When I originally told her she said you sound just like me. She has been active in tons of things like this throughout her lifetime. She grew up in 1960 Alabama. Her family had a convenience store. They were the only families who would serve African-American people, people in the LGBTQ community, and disabled people. For her, these qualities of caring about any and everyone have always been instilled in her. She has passed that on to me. She has worked with kids for a lot of her life she was a youth director for 20 years. I don't think she undermines kids and the younger generation. I think she has an appreciation for what they can offer. I think that differs from a lot of adults. I think they don't know what's coming for them. I think kids are not afraid to say what they feel. And to be honest about it. I think that that on the one hand can be dangerous in some aspects and on the other hand it could really create new conversations and really create a community that we want to see. >>> That was Patrick Henry high school senior Meyer Claris talking about today school walkout. I am here with KPBS education reporter Megan Burks who attended the walkout today at Patrick Henry high school. Will the students that participated get into trouble for walking out of class? >> Not. I spoke with several administrators in San Diego County as well as the leaders from the ACLU who put out guidance early on when people were planning the walkouts. The most the students will face as an unexcused absence from the class. Unless maybe they went to a school sanctioned event. Some had an assembly that was more designed by faculty as well as students. They are not supposed to face any kind of suspension or expulsion for exercising the right to free speech. >>> What is next for the students in terms of advocating for gun control? >> Next Saturday, March 24, there is a rally at waterfront Park. That is organized by the women's March. It is for both youth and adults. On April 20, there is talk of another school walkout for the 19th anniversary of the shooting and Columbine. We are still monitoring to see if that will happen on San Diego campuses. You heard from my at the next is voter registration and voting. >>> I've been speaking with KPBS education reporter Megan Burks. Thank you, Megan. >> You're welcome.

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

Thousands Of San Diego Students Walkout In Protest Of Gun 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.

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

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

For San Diego Millennials, School Walkout Is A Warm-Up For The Ballot Box
More than 30 San Diego-area schools have signed up to host walkouts against school gun violence Wednesday.

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