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Walking out in solidarity

River Falls High School students are among many who will participate in a national walk-out at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 14, to honor those who died in the Florida school shooting Feb. 14 in Parkland. File photo

River Falls High School senior Emma Vik was 12 when the Sandy Hook school shooting happened. She's heard reports of many other shootings since then, most recently the Parkland, Florida, massacre.

She said she'd started to feel more unsafe walking into school.

At a recent pep fest, she and some other girls were startled by popping balloons and thought they were gunshots.

"That was the moment where I was like, 'We need to start figuring out how to change this problem, because it's an epidemic.'" Vik said. "Obviously people shouldn't be dying in public school and I just think that I want people to feel safe."

Vik and and fellow senior Britta Carlson have decided to take a stand by organizing a walk-out for March 14.

"I want people to know that just because we're kids doesn't mean we can't stand up for what we think is right," Vik said. "I think that kids have a right to say what they believe is right."

Especially, Vik said, when it comes to their own safety.

The River Falls walk-out is part of the national walk-out organized by the Women's March. The walk-out, set for 10-10:17 a.m., is meant to honor those who died in the Parkland, Florida school shooting on Feb. 14. Participants will walk to the flagpole in silence and remain there for 17 minutes in silence, to honor those who died.

"These casualties are unnecessary, and we cannot allow them to continue any longer," said Carlson. "It can be easy to distance yourself from tragedies like these, however distance and avoidance does nothing to prevent these terrible things from reoccurring. If politicians refuse to confront these issues, we as students must take control. Even though many of us are unable to vote, our opinions and voices still matter. We can make a difference, regardless of our age." Vik and Carlson said the walk out is also a message to lawmakers, asking them to make changes.

"Shootings like Parkland cannot continue to happen," said Carlson. "There needs to be some type of change that will actually make a difference. In order for this to happen, people need to have awareness."

Vik said she'd like to see the age people are allowed to carry weapons raised from 18 to 21, as it was in Florida. She said she'd also like to see a ban on semiautomatic weapons.

Vik and Carlson said the main goal of the walk-out is to honor those who died, in Parkland, as well as in other shootings, like Sandy Hook, Columbine, and other shootings that were not in schools. The walk-out will be held in total silence.

Carlson said she hopes their efforts will bring more awareness to this issue.

"Awareness that these school shootings can happen anywhere and can affect anyone," she said. "They aren't something to ignore. Some actual change needs to occur. I believe one of the best ways to honor these victims is by evoking meaningful change."

Vik wants to see school, and other mass shootings, end.

"The problem with all of these situations is that the government hasn't really done anything to stop this," Vik said, "and innocent lives are being lost because of that."

Vik heard about the March 14 walk-out via the Women's March Twitter page, and found a guide for how to set up a walk-out on the Women's March webpage.

When she and Carlson decided to make the walk happen, Vik talked to social studies teacher Heather Boleman and High School Principal Kit Luedtke about how to best organize the walk-out without upsetting too many people.

The school day was reorganized so that those who wish to participate in the walk-out can do so without missing class.

Focus, or homeroom, time was moved so that students participating in the walk-out will be able to participate then..

A letter from Superintendent Jamie Benson was sent out to parents in the River Falls School District about the walk-out.

According to the letter:

"Students do not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech while on school property. However, this right does not allow conduct that substantially interferes with the operation of the school. The District has to balance these rights with our custodial and safety responsibilities when students are attending our schools."

The letter notes that district and school administration are not organizing the event or recurring participation, but taking steps to ensure the safety of all, should a walk-out happen. Some of those steps include:

• Moving focus (homeroom) time so students who participate won't miss class

• Middle school students will be required to have parental permission to participate in a walkout

• Students who are physically or verbally aggressive would be subject to disciplinary action

• Students are expected to gather at a specified location, for safety.

• Additional supervisory support and police presence

• Non school people present will be expected to check in at the main office

Hudson

Hudson students may be joining others around the nation walking out to commemorate the loss of lives at the Parkland, Florida school shooting and bring attention to gun violence.

A post on the Indivisible Project Website states that students will participate in a walkout at 10 a.m. March 14 at Hudson High School.

RiverTown Multimedia was informed by district staff that reporters would not be welcome on school property during the time of the walkout.

Hudson School District officials at first said they were unaware of any scheduled student walkout on March 14, as of press time, according to Assistant Director of Community Relations Tracy Habisch-Ahlin.

At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, the school district sent out an email regarding the planned walkouts across the country.

“We support the civic engagement of our students. We believe it is important that students have a voice in the issues that are of concern to them,” the statement said. “However, the Hudson School District does not endorse a student walkout.”

The email stated that safety and security is a priority, and staff will be deployed as necessary if a walkout occurs.

“Students who participate are expected to comply with all staff directives meant to avoid disruption to the school learning environment and to ensure student and staff safety,” the email stated.

If a parent wishes to excuse their child from class for the walkout, the excuse will be respected, according to the statement. Absences without parent permission will be unexcused.

Both Habisch-Ahlin and the emailed statement referenced the district’s policy on student demonstrations.

That policy states:

“Students have the right both to express their opinions on issues and to be educated in a safe environment conducive to learning. Therefore, student protests through disruptive demonstration and/or walkout will not be permitted. Students wishing to express their opinions need to do so without disrupting the educational environment. This policy is not intended to discourage or prohibit the peaceful expression of opinions or ideas concerning the school.

“In the event of a student demonstration or walkout, the building principal, or designee, is responsible for attempting to maintain order and assuring the safety and well-being of students, staff, visitors, and the facility.

“Students involved in a demonstration or walkout may be subject to disciplinary action.”

Editor's note: Rebecca Mariscal also contributed to this report. 

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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