In solidarity with young people around the nation, students throughout San Luis Obispo County protested gun violence Wednesday by walking out of morning class to advocate for solutions.
Standing in support of the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida., local students called for "common-sense gun legislation, school safety, and greater mental health resources on school campuses," they said in a joint statement.
The student-led walkouts included a variety of speakers and performances at high school school campuses that included San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Nipomo's Central Coast New Tech High, Nipomo and Morro Bay; Cayucos Middle School also participated.
The planned walkout at Atascadero High School was canceled after the school went into lockdown following a threat on social media. A student was taken into custody after he threatened in an Instagram post to "shoot up" the school Wednesday morning.
Each walkout began either at 9:45 a.m. or 10 a.m. and lasted 17 minutes — one minute for each of the 17 lives lost in Parkland, where a mass shooting occurred Feb. 14.
“Our hope is that these walkouts will be a positive influence on students by engaging them in the political process and reinforcing the notion that we all have a voice," Arroyo Grande High School senior Casey Crouch said. “Beyond actually changing gun laws, this movement will raise the standard of national discussion on such issues. The #Enough National School Walkout is about starting a dialogue, and students of the Central Coast, along with students across the country, are uniting to fulfill that purpose.”
In their joint statement, the students said their goal is to continue to be "ambassadors of a new generation of leaders, each of whom are thoughtful and articulate individuals that want their voices heard by those in power."
“What happened at Parkland has unfortunately become all too commonplace in America,” said San Luis Obispo High senior Oliver Hicks. “The issue of gun violence has continually been pushed to the side by politicians across the country, so our walkout is an opportunity to show them that students are tired of this inaction and lack of a real discussion. We hope that our efforts will open up a much needed dialogue instead of just thoughts and prayers.”
Some school districts, including Paso Robles and Lucia Mar, blocked the local media from covering the protests.
Paso Robles officials notified parents in a letter that any student who walked out of class to protest would be sanctioned with an unexcused absence. The school adjusted its daily schedule to allow for activities for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. Student organizers of the event encouraged classmates to return to class after the walkout rather than leaving campus.
Here is a snapshot of what took place on campuses Wednesday countywide.
San Luis Obispo High
An estimated 300 to 400 students gathered at San Luis Obispo High, where protest leaders read the names of the Parkland victims, observed a moment of silence, advocated for policy change and read a poem. Some protesters wore orange shirts that said "We are students, we are change."
"I see more action from the sea of orange standing before me than from some of the members of our Congress, who sit idly by as more and more students become victims," said Rutik Shinglet, an 18-year-old senior.
Shinglet said that he believes teachers would be willing to “take a bullet for each of their students, but that doesn’t mean we should expect them to shoot bullets instead.”
“They suggest we put more guns into the equation,” Singlet said. “They say arm our teachers, the ones who are already underpaid and lack sufficient resources to educate students properly.”
Shinglet recommended instead increasing the age limit for buying rifles to 21, implementing and enforcing universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole and banning assault rifles.
“I believe in an individual’s right to arm oneself for self-defense for a sense of security in their own home, but it doesn’t take military-grade weapons to do that,” Shinglet said. “In fact, I ask all AR-15 owners this: Is your right to shoot at fake targets every now and then more important than the right of those 17 victims in Parkland, Florida, to live?”
Minori Jaggia, 17, read a poem, ending with the words, “Today, all across America we stand. Let us not forget the 17 lives until we feel safe on our land.”
San Luis Coastal board member Mark Buchman attended the rally and spoke to The Tribune on his own behalf after the rally.
“I can’t believe how ridiculous it is that students are having to tell adults what’s right and what’s wrong,” Buchman said. “I think we’ve seen it in the past. Students can be effective agents of change, like with the Vietnam War. That’s what it took in the past, and that’s what it will take here."
Organizers also urged students who are 18 to vote.
"Choose your constituents over the NRA or be voted out of office," Shinglet said.
Arroyo Grande High
Media was not allowed on campus during the protests at Lucia Mar Unified School District schools due to safety concerns, but students with the high school newspaper, The Eagle Times, told The Tribune that the protest appeared to go off "without a hitch."
Student reporter Daniela Gomez said students walked out of their classrooms at 9:50 a.m. and gathered in the quad area to rally.
She said musicians and multiple speakers shared their stories and beliefs on gun control to the assembled crowd of between 300 and 400 students.
Arroyo Grande High School senior Fernanda Alvarado presented a speech titled "The Role of Community," in which she spoke about the importance of intersectionality and communication. Fernanda is the vice president of the school's AVID club, as well as the co-president of the LGBT club.
"In respect to gun laws, I think it's just one of those topics where all different types of groups can unify," she said. "Guns are an abuse of power, and an abuse of power is fundamentally what's being fought against."
Gomez said the event ended with a rendition of "Imagine" by John Lennon.
Senior Casey Crouch, who organized the event, said he felt the protest went "incredibly well," noting that the students seemed to really enjoy the musical performances of "Imagine" and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."
"We really think all of our planning paid off, and we hope that our students will be community leaders in bringing the Central Coast forward on all issues," he said.
Nipomo High School
At Nipomo High School, students focused their walkout on paying respect to the victims who lost their lives in the Parkland, Florida shooting.
Newspaper student Tristan Batiste said the school's ASB spent several days discussing how they could put on the event without causing any division over the issue of gun control.
"Our walkout was silent and powerful," Batiste said. "It was also an experience that bonded our students; everyone in the gym was there for the same purpose and nobody was disrespectful in any way."
Batiste said several hundred students filed into the school's gymnasium for 17 minutes of silence. The student government group also made bracelets with the phrase #Enough and biographies of the students and staff members who lost their lives in Parkland.
Finally, they coordinated a lunchtime activity for students to write down their opinions on campus gun safety and what they believe should be done; those notes will later be read by administration.
"We united as a group, and this will hopefully connect our campus further so no students are left out, a reason many believe to be why students do these atrocious acts to schools in the first place," Batiste said.
Morro Bay High School
About one hundred students walked out of class to the entrance of campus with signs reading "enough is enough," "school should be safe," and "never again." The crowd cheered student speakers and musicians.
"Often as teenagers we are told we are too young to ever make a change," a student speaker said. "Our generation has been born into an era where we have no other choice but to take matters into our own hands."
Amalia Fleming, a 15-year-old sophomore, performed her song "Renegade," which her mother, Dawn Feuerberg, said was a fight song for her generation.
"We were born renegades. We spit our words to ignite the rage. And raise our voices to fan the flames. And if you think that we do it for the fame, you are completely insane," Fleming sang.
Coast Union High School
Principal Scott Ferguson said about 15 students walked out of class to participate in the gun violence walkout.
"They went to the library to meet and talk, but they wanted to be outside and walk, so they walked around the campus," Ferguson said. "The event culminated with a circle in the quad, a moment of silence for the 17 students who lost their lives in Parkland, Florida, and then some discussion. After the 17 minutes were up, they went back to class."
Ferguson added that there was "no huge spectacle and they were very respectful."
A Women’s March community event calling for action on gun violence, a public rally called a “March for Our Lives,” will take place at 2 p.m. March 24 in San Luis Obispo.