Hundreds of local students at Murphy High School participated in a nationwide planned walkout Wednesday to honor the victims from a school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month and to show support for stricter gun legislation and improved access to mental health care.
While nearly all of the student body participated, the event was organized by a small group of students. The same students have also planned a local event to coincide with the national “March for our Lives” in Washington D.C. on March 24.
One of those organizers, Chole Duren, said she and friends organized the school walkout because they believe it’s important for young people to get involved and “stand up for our right to go to school and be safe.”“A lot of people have said this isn’t going to do anything, as far legislation, but this is not as much about getting laws changed today as it is raising awareness that students can have an impact,” she said. “Even though we can’t vote, we can still do things like this.”
The event was greenlighted by school administrators as well as Superintendent Martha Peek, who OK’d at least three similar events throughout the Mobile County Public School System.
Students gathered around the flagpole as Duren read the names and ages of the 17 victims who were killed during the Parkland shooting Feb. 14. Also included was Courtlin Arrington, who was killed in an “accidental shooting” at Huffman High School in Birmingham last week.
The second half of the walkout event was political and included a few students’ shared agenda regarding school safety and gun control. Prior to the event, Duren said the group would like to see Congress raise the minimum age for purchasing all firearms to 21 as well as ban bump stocks, silencers and what they described as “assault weapons.”Standing in front of hundreds of her classmates, senior Tiffany Trotter shouted through a bullhorn and said politicians who oppose stricter gun legislation “accept money from the National Rifle Association, and only care about the NRA’s agenda.”
“They don’t care about us dying,” she added. “They won’t listen.”
While the event was overtly political at times, school officials said they supported the organized walkout because its organizers went through the proper channels to request and plan it. Several teachers lined the parameter of the event to ensure participants stayed orderly.
“They sent a letter asking if they could do it, and the way they went about it I knew it was going to be respectful. I sent it to through to [Peek], and she also agreed,” Murphy Principal Joe Toomey said. “Originally it was supposed to be at 10 o’clock but we were testing and I asked them to move it back to 10:30 and they agreed, so they’ve been nothing but respectful.”
Across the bay, students in Baldwin County Public Schools weren’t allowed to participate in wave of walkouts across the country, though Superintendent Eddie Tyler said the district did allow individual schools to organize a “moment of honor” to recognize the Parkland victims.
Tyler “applauded” students who reached out asking to prepare those types of events but said, after discussing it with law enforcement, the administration didn’t believe it would be safe.
“The reality is that there are people in our society today waiting to do harm,” Tyler said. “Our leaders are concerned that by presenting an open opportunity where on a certain day, at a certain time, at a certain school, an entire student body will be standing together outside for 17 minutes in a show of solidarity and unity, we could face tragedy of our own.”
Tyler said any student who chooses to leave class would face “standard disciplinary action.”