Suburban students walk out of school to demand stricter gun control
Thousands of suburban high school students joined their peers across the country Wednesday in a national walkout to demand stricter gun control after the killing of 17 people last week at a Florida high school.
An estimated 1,200 Schaumburg High School students, many carrying signs and chanting messages in support of tighter gun measures, paraded in front of the school then rallied on its front steps. The event ended with 17 minutes of silence in honor of the 14 students and three staff members slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Similar protests were held at Elk Grove, Hoffman Estates, Wheaton North, Neuqua Valley and Batavia high schools, among others.
Schaumburg High senior Jenna Whalen was among five students who organized her classmates' walkout.
"For me, it was the realization that angry was too tame a word for how I am feeling today," she said. "Students here are so powerful, and we know the power of our words."
She and fellow organizers Mina Mazeikis, Ryan Sorge, Aidan Wysocki and Zahra Kahn met Wednesday morning with Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 officials to set parameters for the protest. As part of the negotiations, students agreed they would return to classes after one period.
Wysocki said administrators' support -- which extended to not marking any student truant during the noon class period -- probably erased the concerns of students who wanted to take part but were worried about getting into trouble.
The protest falls on the one-week anniversary of the school shooting in Florida. Similar walkouts are planned for the one-month anniversary on March 14 as well as the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting on April 20.
Among the students' requests are stricter background checks and a longer waiting period for gun purchases.
Whalen said it shouldn't be unreasonable to keep a military-grade assault rifle out of the hands of a 19-year-old, or that all sales be properly monitored and recorded.
Wysocki noted that many of the weapons used in school shootings have been legally acquired under current laws.
A small group of adults stood outside the school Wednesday to support the students.
"We need modification of laws and mental health issues," Sandy Reeves said.
Renee Feldman, who has a child attending Schaumburg High, said she wishes such walkouts could have started making an impact 30 years ago when one of the nation's first school shootings occurred in Winnetka.
Elsewhere in District 211, Hoffman Estates and Conant high schools in Hoffman Estates each saw about 150 students walk out, while about 75 at Fremd High School in Palatine took part in the protest, officials said.
Three schools in nearby Northwest Suburban High School District 214 participated in the walkout. Elk Grove High School saw about 400 to 500 students take part; Buffalo Grove High School had 75 to 100; and Wheeling High School had 50 to 60, officials said.
Students at four schools in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 -- Wheaton North High School, Wheaton-Warrenville South High School, Hubble Middle School and Monroe Middle School -- walked out of class Wednesday for less than 20 minutes, spokeswoman Erica Loiacono said.
The demonstration was "a peaceful walkout to support the Florida community impacted by the recent shooting," Loiacono said, and students did not specify if they were rallying in support of any specific gun control regulations.
The number of students who participated was "not significant," and students were not penalized for the time they spent outside of class.
"We chose to support our students," Loiacono said. "We do think it's very important that our students have a voice when they want to be heard."
In Naperville, about 100 students walked out about noon Wednesday from their lunch period at Neuqua Valley High School in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, where they spent roughly 17 minutes sitting beside the school's flagpole, Principal Bob McBride said.
The walkout went "without incident" as staff members observed to make sure no students left campus and everyone remained safe. McBride said he encouraged students to be "thoughtful and respectful" in their actions and to consider observing national days of protest instead of creating their own activism "ad hoc."
At Naperville Central High School, senior Ben Russell organized a walkout with four others. He said he felt a walkout to protest gun violence was needed, and because he hadn't heard of anything being planned he and his team put one together.
Several hundred students walked out for about 20 minutes at Batavia High School, officials there reported. And in St. Charles, students walked out at North and East high schools. The walkouts lasted 17 minutes, according to district spokeswoman Carol Smith.
At Streamwood High School, about 500 students walked out for 40 minutes, officials said, and about 200 walked out from Bartlett High.
• Staff writers Marie Wilson, Susan Sarkauskas, Madhu Krishnamurthy and Daily Herald wire services contributed to this story.