Midway High School walkout organizers

Midway High students have organized a walkout for 10 a.m. Wednesday as part of a national movement, sparked by survivors of a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, to demand more protection from school shootings. Back row, left to right: senior Avi Patel, junior Emily Kate Mosley, senior Hanson Kuang, sophomore Katie Fraley, sophomore Casie Pollard. Front row: senior M’Lynn Phillips and junior Chandler Evans. Not pictured: Emily Dodson.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

Junior Emily Kate Mosley can recall a moment last semester when an unexpected lockdown drill left her stranded and scared, searching for some place to take cover in the halls of Midway High School. She found an unlocked classroom and crouched inside.

“I remember there was an open classroom – the swim team’s classroom off campus,” she said. “I ran inside and shut the door, with no way to lock the door because only the teachers had the keys. I hid under the desk and I cried because I remember thinking this was real.”

She helped form the McLennan County High School Democrats organization and has been politically active in her community since President Donald Trump was elected in 2016.

Now she and seven of her peers, along with hundreds of others nationwide will walk out of schools for 17 minutes, starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, to demand more protection from school shootings on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“We shouldn’t have to fear for our lives. I feel like we should take a proactive plan and should have lockdown drills, but the fact of the matter is we shouldn’t have to worry about guns being in schools, period,” Mosley said. “That’s the bigger issue.”

The Parkland shooting left 17 people dead. And each minute of the walkout will be dedicated to one of the victims. But as students take a stand, administrators will try to find a balance between the First Amendment and suitable consequences for skipping school.

The walkout, coordinated by organizers of the Women’s March and sparked by Parkland shooting survivors, is one of three national demonstrations between now and April 20, according to the Associated Press.

Wacoans will trek to Heritage Square at 3 p.m. March 24 for a March For Our Lives rally, organized by some of the same Midway students. Another national demonstration will occur April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that left more than 20 dead in Littleton, Colorado. It’s unclear whether a local event will be planned .

“The minute I heard about the Parkland shooting, I was immediately taken aback by how awful this was,” said Avi Patel, a Midway High senior. “Then I realized no action was being taken whenever the students at Parkland rose up, and were like, ‘We want action.’ At first, I didn’t know students had the power to make such an impact, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Midway High students will start the walkout by exiting the front entrance of the school to gather at the flagpoles — an ode to symbolizing what America represents, Patel said. Organizers don’t want participants to hold protest signs during the demonstration because the purpose of the walkout is to demonstrate solidarity, he said.

Midway High has more than 2,000 students, but it’s unclear how many will participate.

Once outside, senior Emily Dodson will hold a moment of silence and then read out the names of the 17 lives lost. They’ll encourage participants to use social media to spread their voices in the moment with the hashtag #ENOUGH, they said.

“Nationally, as students see how many schools and how many people are actually participating in this, I feel like it will make other youths feel empowered to make a change,” senior M’Lynn Phillips said.

Like others, the students are demanding improvements to gun purchasing loopholes, stronger background checks and age restrictions, more access to mental health resources and support, and a complete assault rifle ban, junior Chandler Evans said.

“This philosophy that was introduced to me a couple weeks ago that a student’s life is less important than one’s right to a gun has been a central motivation for me to continue pursuing and driving this whole march and walkout,” Evans said. “It feels like very little has been done by the people we as students and children rely on to get things done.”

The students are quick to say their demands are not a critique against Midway Independent School District specifically, but more against lawmakers. They feel safe in their school and Midway ISD officials are currently evaluating more security measures, like adding more school resource officers or security renovations to school entryways.

The movement is about having a unified voice for future generations to make a difference at the ballot box, they said.

After the Parkland victims are honored, Mosley will walk eligible students through how to register to vote and other organizers will help students make calls to state and federal officials to voice concerns.

“We want to send a clear and direct message to our representatives that it’s not about you, it’s about your constituents,” Patel said. “We are the people you’re representing and we believe we need legislation in place to reduce gun violence at schools and I feel we can get that done if we can let our representatives know we can vote them out. We can be the reason you’re out of office, if you don’t represent us as you should under the Constitution.”

The organizers said they have spoken with Midway ISD administrators, who have been understanding about the students’ desire to join in the movement and have expressed no intent to discipline the students who participate.

Midway ISD officials weren’t available to comment on any possible consequences or confirm the meeting by Monday evening.

“Seeing my younger siblings, my friends and my peers scared to go into school has inspired me to step up and try to make a change,” sophomore Casie Pollard said. “It’s important that we have the right to pursue our rights to live and rights to happiness.”

The students won’t let the motivation behind the movement fade once the demonstrations end, they said. The group wants to do something with administration once a year that focuses on student safety or honors the purpose behind the movement, they said. They’re also looking at ways to focus on mental health at the local level, like starting a “We Dine Together” organization for students to share lunch with peers they don’t know or students who feel slighted, Patel said.

Other schools

In Waco ISD, at least two events are planned and teachers have opted to participate in a third.

Wendi Singletary, a Hillcrest Professional Development School first-grade teacher, plans to walk out with any educator who wants to join her as long as her class is covered for the brief movement by someone else, she said.

Singletary said students deserve to have their voices heard and change can be accomplished when voices are louder together. A mother of four, Singletary has children at Waco High School, Tennyson Middle School and ATLAS Academy.

“I can’t imagine sitting inside my classroom knowing a nationwide statement was being made and not participating,” she said.

She knows teachers and administrators are doing what they can within their means to keep children safe, with regular lockdown drills, a district police department and more, she said. But more should be done to fund education and mental health resources, and more should be done to restrict access to firearms, she said.

“I want to go down as saying, I will not rest until I know you are safe — as my students, as my fellow teachers,” Singletary said. “That’s the statement that matters to me and I hope that’s the statement we’re making together.”

At ATLAS Academy, the movement has trickled down to two eighth-graders, Abigail Zimmerman and Lily Coffman.

Both leaders of different organizations on campus, the pair will hold a walkout in the school’s courtyard, they said. They’re encouraging students to link arms to show unity and read the name of a Parkland victim each minute, they said.

“The things in our public education system, especially now, teach us about being part of our community and being responsible and taking leadership,” Coffman said. “We’re trying to encourage others to take leadership and tell their parents and their parents’ friends, who are really the people who can make change by voting, and at the end of the speech we’re going to encourage others to do 17 acts of random kindness.”

Their administrators have been supportive, but they understand they might also face consequences for cutting class despite trying to walk out in a way that isn’t disruptive, the girls said.

Any Waco ISD student who skips class for the demonstrations will receive an unexcused absence, per district policy, Waco ISD spokesman Kyle DeBeer said.

“They don’t want kids walking out in the future for random reasons just to walk out,” Zimmerman said. “The worst that could possibly happen to us, because we’re the organizers, is we get sent to in-school suspension for a day and we are willing to accept that consequence.”

At University High School, no confirmed walkout has been planned, but Principal Ricky Edison said students might be doing a balloon release after school Wednesday to honor the Parkland victims.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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