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Local students join national walkout


High school and junior high school students stand in silence, joining a national walkout. - Scott Hunter photos

It's something you rarely see: a large group of high school and junior high school students standing together, not saying a word.

That happened March 14 in the parking lot at Lake Roosevelt Junior/Senior High School amidst light rain, puddles and heavy reflection for 17 people who died in a Florida school shooting Feb. 14.

The students had left the school, joining in a national walkout organized by students and either tolerated, encouraged or forbidden by their local schools, nearly 3,000 of them.

Two girls holding a large poster told The Star the event at Lake Roosevelt was student-organized. They'd made the poster featuring photos of, and information on, the 17 dead in Florida.

"We were afraid that some of us might be doing it just to get out of class, so we made this to remind them," said Autumn Nichols, "and enough is enough." She and Penelope Antoine researched the material on their own and formed their own opinions, noted Autumn's mother, Tami Nichols, later.

A few school personnel were waiting outside before the walkout began. Staff had discussed the event, which had been announced nationally beforehand, and decided to allow it as a learning exercise, be supportive, and make sure students returned to class, according to Charles Pierce, the vice principal.

As students milled out of the building, they chatted. But once they assembled, school staff member Jess Utz reminded them the idea was to be silent for 17 minutes. "Think about losing 17 of your classmates," he said.

Not all students walked out.

"It was stupid," said student Jonah Louie later in the day. ... Why should I honor something [bad] that happened?"

Penelope Antoine and Autumn Nichols hold a poster they made to remember the victims of the shooting in Florida. The poster was later hung inside the school.

Louie said he thought the walkout was unsafe because it could present a target for someone who didn't like the school, something he sometimes worries about.

His grandmother, Maria Abbot, called The Star to express her disapproval. She thought the national walkout would bolster the feelings of the murderer, and the school should have imposed "consequences" on those who walked out.

She wasn't alone, and some schools in the nation and nearby took that approach.

A photo of the event posted on The Star's Facebook site drew a long debate, starting with a former school board member saying that parents should demand a makeup day and that he would campaign against school levies.

Others praised the students and expressed hope because they would soon be voters.

As the jubilant sounds of recess filtered over from the elementary side of the school, the older kids in the parking lot suddenly turned and headed back to class after 17 minutes had passed, in silence.


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