Protesting students: 'There's no reason kids should be dying'
Students across the region who walked out of class Friday as part of the National School Walkout continued to call on legislators to tighten gun laws and take steps to make them feel safer.
The protests were smaller than last month's, with crowds ranging from nine students who walked out of John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights to 350 who walked out of nearby Elk Grove High School, both in Northwest Suburban High School District 214.
But students still participated at roughly two dozen schools across the Northwest and West suburbs, including Elgin, Naperville Central and St. Viator high schools.
"I'm walking for the people who didn't get the chance to," said Naperville Central High School student Lindsay Powell. "If we keep doing this, we might get the change we've wanted."
Some students walked out for the second or third time this year, joined by others across the nation during an event planned to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting in Colorado.
In doing so, some students risked detention or unexcused absences, as administrators chose not to support the latest round of walkouts. Others had their parents call and excuse them to avoid punishment. Still others walked out from schools that promised to handle protest-related absences the same as any other or to evaluate them on a case-by-case basis.
Administrators at St. Viator in Arlington Heights, for example, followed direction from the Archdiocese of Chicago that students should be given unexcused absences for participating in Friday's 25-minute walkout.
Still, the school estimated 125 students emerged from the building at 10 a.m. to release helium-filled balloons symbolizing several schools affected by gun violence, such as Columbine and Marjory Stoneman Davis high schools, Northern Illinois University and Sandy Hook Elementary.
Some students who gathered outside Elgin High for a 20-minute walkout, without any speeches or solemn moments of silence, said they participated to show respect to the families of the 13 victims killed at Columbine.
"Not much has changed since Columbine," said freshman Mary Ghiotti. "Children go to school for education and they don't come home. It shouldn't be something you hear about every few months. There's no reason that kids should be dying because people are allowed to get guns so easily."
Others at Elgin, who were among 500 total protesters at three or more schools in Elgin Area School District U-46, said they hoped to send a message by just being there.
"It's important administrators know how we are feeling about the situation," said freshman Morgan Nakonechny, "and it's important to keep our school safe."
Friday's action was a way to again call attention to the threat students feel whenever there is gun violence at a school.
"I'm going into education, and (the shootings at) Parkland (in Florida) made an impact on me," said Nathan Byrk, 17, who helped organize the demonstration among Naperville Central students. "I don't want to have to live with the threat of not knowing if I'm going to get shot in my line of work."
The walkout from Naperville Central began as student Liam Doolin was the first to exit the school's front door, carrying signs that read "DISARM" and "Regulate the militia."
Naperville Unit District 203 officials estimated at least 85 students left class at Central as the walkout began, and at least five more from Naperville North High School joined them.
The student protesters were joined by about 20 adult gun-control activists as they wrote letters to legislators and conducted voter registration. Three other adults also protested nearby, holding anti-abortion signs and images.
Students at Central said they would remain out of class until 3:10 p.m., holding signs along Aurora Avenue for passing cars or camping out on Rotary Hill at the base of the Millennium Carillon. But many walkouts planned across the area were not expected to last as long.
Elgin Area School District U-46 officials can't say whether such walkouts will continue, but they say they are committed to providing students the space and direction to express themselves peacefully.
Some students, though, are beginning to question whether the walkouts are having an impact.
"There's all these debates about gun control, but nothing is happening," said Jose Morales, an Elgin freshman. "We made a difference, but not big enough yet."