Students in St. Louis — and around the country — walked out of school Wednesday morning as part of a national call for improved school safety and tighter gun-control measures.
At Maplewood Richmond Heights High School, students set up 17 empty white chairs symbolizing the people killed during the school shooting on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida.
As students streamed out the front door at 10 a.m., many donned orange ribbons and held small signs with pictures and biographies of the Parkland victims. After gathering on the athletic field, a student read off the 17 names as yellow roses were placed on each empty chair.
Afterward, several students lingered behind to pray, embrace a classmate or wipe away a tear. A teacher encouraged students to reach out to peers who may be having a hard time.
"I think we all practice empathy here very well," senior Lily Merello said. "But I think that something that’s needed to be put into place to reach out to more people is simply putting yourself in everybody else’s shoes."
Teachers have been locking doors to their classrooms more often in recent weeks, student Chloe Moreland said, "just so it adds that extra precaution."
"I feel really comfortable having the police officers and knowing that we’re always protected," said senior Trenton Pruitt. "And that my teachers would do anything for me."
Students organized the walkout for the one-month anniversary of the Florida shooting. Local school districts wrestled with the best way to respond. Many worked with student organizers to plan events and facilitate lessons around school safety. But some superintendents said students who participate in unsanctioned protests will be punished.
More than a dozen schools in the St. Louis region had walkouts or some other activity around the day of action, which was organized nationally with help from the Women's March Youth Empower. Students at Clayton High School held a voter registration drive and wrote letters to lawmakers urging them to enact new gun control laws.
MICDS walkout today to demand action from congress on gun violence because #enoughisenough. #moleg #StudentsDemandAction #StudentWalkout pic.twitter.com/kAHAFUJlIL— Lauren (@Laurenmalx) March 14, 2018
Students at Cardinal Ritter College Prep walked through their Grand Center neighborhood in St. Louis, stopping on the steps of St. Francis Xavier College Church.
“The purpose of the school-wide walkout was to get our voices heard throughout the community," said student Orlondo Williams. "Gun violence is something we hear about every day and the question is, who’s next? Until something changes, it could be any one of us.”
On their way back to school, many students hung their orange armbands in a tree on campus. After the march, the faculty held in-class discussions with the students to encourage an open dialogue on school safety and review active shooter procedures.
“You hear about people wanting change, but it's not people actually trying to get change. We stand as a school," Darius White, a Cardinal Ritter student said. “We stand as a body actually coming to the people and saying whatever we have to do, we’ll do it."
Students in Kirkwood marched together chanting “No more silence, end gun violence,” and “Enough is enough.”
A national march is also planned for March 24 and another school walkout on April 20.