Florida high school students march 13 miles to school shooting scene, demand change
For live updates on this morning's walkout, read The Bee's coverage here with feeds from staff reporters throughout the region.
At Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, speakers will rally Wednesday morning in the school quad to call for immediate school safety changes.
At Del Dayo Elementary School in Carmichael, students have the option of walking to the flagpole at 10 a.m. And at McClatchy High School in Sacramento, students will be joined by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and other politicians at Becerra's alma mater.
More than 30 schools in the Sacramento region are now expected to participate Wednesday in the National School Walkout, a 17-minute protest against gun violence in the wake of the massacre one month ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The local walkouts will span the region from Shingle Springs to Davis, Elk Grove to Rio Linda. They include elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and universities. Events are also planned at the state Capitol and at an NRA lobbying office on Capitol Mall.
Survivors of the Parkland shooting launched a national movement when they advocated for stricter gun laws and called for a reduction in gun violence on airwaves and in meetings with politicians, including President Donald Trump.
A group of Bella Vista seniors, inspired by the Florida students, began meeting soon after the shooting in an effort to make their campus safer. Their tagline: “We will not be next.”
“We definitely felt that as students, it’s a little bit of a helpless feeling, it’s a sinking feeling every morning to leave the house and have that feeling of, oh, my goodness, what would I do (if there were a shooting),” said Natalie Fulton, 17, student body president at Bella Vista.
The students are asking the San Juan Unified school board and administration to create and promote mental health services and to require mandatory psychiatric evaluations. They want active shooter protocols so they know what to do during an incident. They also are asking for greater access to counselors and psychologists.
"Four counselors on a campus of 2,000 is clearly not enough and they are not accessible enough to the general population of the student body," Fulton told the school board recently. "Now is the time to invest in the mental well being of your students as if they were your own children."
The group of seniors will hold a 40-minute event beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the school quad. It will include speakers with an emphasis on school safety instead of gun regulations, Fulton said. She expects the event will be attended by supporters of gun control – as well as those who support gun rights.
"Some people have come up to me and asked me, 'Why are you trying to take away Second Amendment rights and why are we talking about gun control?' " she said.
Many parents also oppose having their children involved in the walkout, she said. Fulton calls that unfortunate.
"I think political involvement should be encouraged at a younger age," she said. "Civil disobedience is what our country is about."
Jennifer Adams, who has a fifth- and a sixth-grade student at Del Dayo Elementary, wasn't happy about receiving an email from Principal Gianfranco Tornatore saying that students can walk out to the flagpole in front of the school at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
Adams said it puts her child and other children in the position of having to make a political choice.
“I feel like it’s required because he said that is what we are doing,” she said of Tornatore. “It pits our kids against each other, whether or not they choose to walk. It’s a little inappropriate at this age.”
She was upset that Tornatore had attached a flier from the national event that included the hashtag #Enough, which she considers "identity politics."
Her children won’t be walking out of class Wednesday, she said.
In a follow-up email addressing parent concerns, Tornatore said that students who participate will be encouraged to engage in a conversation about school safety on campus and not be led in political discussion. The flier was attached to offer background and context for parents, but won't be distributed to students or used to facilitate classroom discussion, he explained.
San Juan Unified is not endorsing the national event, said spokesman Trent Allen, whose district oversees both Bella Vista High School and Del Dayo Elementary School.
Allen said each district school is being allowed to create its own event. "Some are holding moments of silence and self-reflection while others are asking students to share and post their ideas around school safety and strong character traits," he said.
Beth Foraker of Davis said she's encouraging her children to take part in the walkout She has a daughter in sixth grade and a son in high school.
She worries in particular about how her son, who has Down syndrome, would fare during a school shooting.
“He would be one of the most vulnerable people,” she said. “It’s our job to make our schools the safest places possible, and the most beautiful places possible. This whole conversation makes me so discouraged.”
Foraker, a lecturer in the School of Education at UC Davis who supervises student teachers, said she is alarmed by discussions about arming teachers.
“Zero teachers want to have guns,” she said.
The Wednesday walkout, spearheaded by the Women’s March, is the first in a series of walkouts and marches scheduled over the next few months to call for stronger gun laws. March for Our Lives, a national march on Washington D.C., is set for March 24 and another national school walkout is scheduled for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
School administrators locally have toed a line between supporting students who want to speak out and ensuring they remain on campus. Some Democratic politicians, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, have encouraged school leaders to allow students to march.
The mayor said he plans to take part in a protest at Hiram Johnson High School in south Sacramento. The mayor said he will "march beside (the students) or maybe even behind them."
California Attorney General Becerra, state Senate leader Kevin de León and Sacramento City Unified board member Jay Hansen will be among the politicians speaking at McClatchy High School. Becerra will address gun violence prevention and stand with students during the walkout, according to a press release from his office.
Ryan Lillis contributed to this story.