Students speak up: 'We shouldn't be afraid to come to school because of guns'

Students speak up: 'We shouldn't be afraid to come to school because of guns'

To Andrehyu Allen, the question has changed.

He no longer wonders if there will be another school shooting, or if it will be here, elsewhere, or even at his own campus — Urbana High School.

Now, he just wonders "when?"

The fact that the most recent mass school shooting, which left 17 people dead, occurred at a school more than 1,200 miles away, in Parkland, Fla., is no source of comfort to the UHS senior and other students, who find it too easy to picture their own school as the next target — their own friends, classmates and teachers as the next to fall.

Frustrated by the latest school tragedy and congressional inaction regarding gun laws, some local middle and high school students plan to join a national walkout Wednesday as an act of protest. What that will look like depends on the school.

The general idea, though, is that students will leave their buildings around 10 a.m. and protest peacefully nearby until 10:17 a.m. — one minute for each victim.

What will also differ by school is how administrators choose to handle a potentially large number of students exiting the building at once. As schools across the country grapple with the question, some have been criticized for their decisions, including one Texas superintendent who said any participating students would face three-day suspensions.

Local administrators who spoke with The News-Gazette, however, said they do not plan to suspend students who protest peacefully, although some cannot explicitly endorse leaving school during class time.

"We actually have taken a proactive approach," said Rantoul Township High School Principal Todd Wilson. "(Last) week, I sent an email to our students letting them know we are aware this could take place, and we would rather partner with them in doing it.

"Basically, the guidance that I've given the students is that if it's done properly, we're going to respect what they do."

In Urbana, Superintendent Don Owen informed students in a letter that those who participate peacefully will not face any consequences, as long as they fit school officials' definition of "peaceful."

"A lot of what happens depends on how you choose to conduct yourself," UHS Assistant Principal Erin Ludwick said. "It would be individualized to the behavior a student exhibits."

In Champaign, Central High School Principal Joe Williams wrote that students who leave class to participate will be marked as having an unexcused absence, but the punishment that accompanies that won't be enforced.

"At Central, when students are unexcused absent, they are placed on the social probation," he wrote. "This does not apply to (this) week's protest because the following week is Spring Break and, therefore, there isn't a consequence."

Centennial Principal Brain Reigler said the policy will be the same at his high school.

'We want to be Urbana'

The efforts to decide how protests will transpire have been student-led, with conversations occurring between teachers and administrators as necessary. Allen, one of the organizers at UHS, said students there primarily wanted to honor the Parkland victims, so they plan to stand in silence for the 17 minutes.

"It's supposed to honor the people killed in Florida, and we want to do that justice," Allen said. "There is definitely a huge political underlining and that's cool, but we want to do our best to honor who is killed."

Urbana's students plan to walk to the Lincoln statue at Carle Park, intentionally standing in a place where the public could see or even join them.

"We don't just want to be Urbana High School," Allen said. "We want to be Urbana."

If Centennial students get clearance, senior Valena Greene said they'll walk to the track and perform two chants, as well as make a call-to-action speech.

"Basically, it's telling students that the way to get change is to register to vote," Greene said. "It also gives us a voice to say this is our education, and we shouldn't be afraid to come to school because of guns. And then we will have a moment of silence. We will only be outside 17 minutes to honor that."

'Not just acting out'

Because Wednesday's walkouts could be construed as political events, state law prevents teachers from joining students, which makes supervision tricky for local administrations. Champaign's Unit 4 informed parents of this in correspondence sent to families in the middle and high schools.

"We recognize that some staff, families, and members of our community have expressed support for demonstrations," the letter said. "However, under Illinois law, school employees are prohibited from engaging in political activities while at work or on duty. As Unit 4 employees and staff, participating in a student walkout would violate this prohibition. Accordingly, staff are being asked to fulfill assignments for supervising students and cannot participate in the walkouts."

A version of that letter sent to Central High School families included a note stating that there would be a similar event held after school Wednesday, at 3:45 p.m.

Greene remains hopeful student voices are heard.

"I feel like a lot of times, community members just go, 'They're just kids, they don't know about the real world,'" she said. "We do live in the real world. I really want people to know that we aren't just kids making noise. We really do want to see a change. We're not just acting out."

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Milanus wrote on March 12, 2018 at 10:03 am

I appreciate that these kids want things to be different, but we've really done then a disservice by giving them the impression that people have a right to safety, a right to protection. Sorry, the supreme court settled that, police do not have a duty to protect an individual. So the individual is responsible for their own protection, and as high school kids, there's no options.

Sure, we can ban this, make this other thing more illegal, etc... But a law without consequences is just a suggestion. As the guy in Florida was killing people, the ones tasked to protect that school didn't. They failed. The system that should have caught the issues, that knew about the issues, it failed. So, pardon me if I have no faith in the doubling down of the calls for banning things, demonstrations and talk, telling and screeching.

I want potential future school shooters to know that if you think you are going to leave a black mark on the world, we will deal with you in kind. No more hand wringing, no more blaming the NRA, no more mucking about. It's time to eliminate criminal protection zones, it's time for those who get trained to be able to protect our students, and it's time to take the gloves off.

Anonymous71 wrote on March 12, 2018 at 12:03 pm

The above comment ignores the fact that there were already people trained with guns in the school and those trained professionals were unable to stop the shooting. Inserting more guns into schools will only increase the risk of a tragic accident. More guns is the problem, not the solution. There is ample evidence that more guns relates to increased violent crime and that fewer guns and stricter gun laws relate to decreases in violent crime. As one example, see . The UK, Canada, and Australia all passed stricter gun control and introduced measures to reduce the number of guns in their countries. Each of these countries experienced a gradual decline in violent crime ever since. Meanwhile, in the U.S., we have one of the highest per capita rates of gun ownership and we have one the highest rates of violent crime of any modern country. More guns does not reduce crime. 

Mirielle wrote on March 12, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Anonymous71...Do you mean stricter gun laws Chicago has implemented? Check those stats every Monday morning. European cities are safer because the citizens right to have guns has been abolished?  Yes, the criminals who rape, steal & murder the unarmed citizens are safer.  Critical thinking is seriously lacking when an agenda  to remove guns to protect citizens from criminals is promoted & desired.

awp wrote on March 13, 2018 at 4:03 am

Liberal logic:

Banning drugs makes the problems associated with drugs worse


Bannind guns will make all of the problems associated with guns better.