Students at a growing number of Minnesota schools are joining an unprecedented nationwide campaign against gun violence in the wake of the Florida school shootings that left 17 dead.
Walkouts are planned for March and April, amid hopes, too, for a strong state presence at a “March For Our Lives” protest in Washington, D.C., on March 24.
Supporters determined to see the passage of meaningful gun-control legislation know that history is not on their side. This time, however, they draw their inspiration from a movement led largely by students.
In Minneapolis, students are planning to walk out of their high schools on Wednesday afternoon, according to several social media reports.
High school students from Washburn, Roosevelt and South plan to leave their classes midday and take public transportation to the Martin Luther King Jr. Park in south Minneapolis then march to City Hall to “voice our concerns about gun violence in schools,” according to a Facebook post.
Zoe Chinn, a freshman who’s part of a group organizing a walkout at Central High in St. Paul, remembers the 2012 slayings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and how little came of it legislatively.
“This time, it’s really registered. It could be us next,” Chinn said. “We can’t wait any longer. Something has to change. It has to be immediate.”
One parent, Joe Campbell, wants more voices heard. The 2001 graduate of Henry Sibley High School has launched a GoFundMe campaign to send 10 Sibley students to the Washington, D.C., march. Contributions rose so quickly that he changed his plans: Now, he’d like to charter a bus for 50.
“I want to make sure kids have an opportunity to witness history,” Campbell said Tuesday. “To witness history and be inspired to make it happen here at home.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, he got word of a $1,200 anonymous donation that put him three-quarters of the way to his $12,000 goal.
The march, along with sister rallies across the country, are being organized by surviving students of the killings last Wednesday at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
The school walkouts are a separate call for action spearheaded by the group Women’s March Youth Empower. At 10 a.m. on March 14, students, staff and supporters are planning a 17-minute walkout in protest of what the group describes as “Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”
“We need action,” the website for the observance states.
High schools in Apple Valley, Northfield, Minnetonka, Osseo, St. Paul, St. Peter and Winona plan to participate, according to the website.
Chaska High School and East Ridge High School in Woodbury then will join a growing number of schools in another national high school walkout on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shootings.
Change of plans
Bemidji High was the first school in the state on the March 14 list, but it no longer is taking part, said Gina Bernard, an English teacher who planned to lead the walkout. She said Tuesday that the district told her it had received “complaints from the community” after her plans went public.
“They are with me in spirit,” she quoted the district as saying.
But, Bernard added, “they cannot support a faculty member using class time to forward a controversial subject.”
She declined to comment further.
Chinn, the St. Paul Central student helping to organize the walkout, said members will reach out to “a few trusted teachers” who have expressed a willingness to help, even though technically, she said, they are not supposed to.
“It’s difficult, definitely,” she said of the planning. “But, hopefully, it will work.”
At Henry Sibley in Mendota Heights, principal Ron Monson received an e-mail Tuesday morning from Campbell — the first contact between the men about the GoFundMe campaign. Monson has proposed that they meet, and that Campbell update him then.
Asked about reaction to the fund drive, Carrie Hilger, a spokeswoman for the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District, said: “As a high school, all of our administrators, our teachers, are shocked and extremely saddened by the shootings in Florida. Our hearts go out to that community.”
The district supports student activism, she added.
Campbell, a communications consultant who served as a spokesman for former St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, has three children — a first-grader and two preschoolers — who attend school in Minneapolis. He recalls “literally sobbing,” he said, when former President Barack Obama spoke after the Sandy Hook Elementary School slayings and again recently when student Emma Gonzalez addressed the killings in Florida.
“I am horrified that we live in a country where this continues to happen,” Campbell said.
He is not sure, he added, that the current Congress is capable of meaningful change. But there is always the Legislature, he said, and he hopes students will have seats at the table if and when action is taken.
As for those traveling to Washington, D.C., “I plan to go with them,” Campbell said. “I’ll pay for the trip out of my own pocket.”
Staff writers Hannah Covington and Karen Zamora contributed to this report.