Local students joining nationwide silent protest

Students in Juneau will be displaying an act of unity with the rest of the nation as part of a planned student walkout March 14.

In a nationwide student-led effort about gun-control and violence, Juneau-Douglas High School and Thunder Mountain High School will be participating in the walkout. Starting at 10 a.m. students will stand in solidarity and silence for 17 minutes honoring the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Sophomore Katie McKenna, 15, Junior Peter Sidmore, 16, freshman Forrest Davis, 14, sophomore Stella Tallmon, 15, freshman Linnea Lentfer, 14, sophomore Sierra Lloyd, 15 and senior Theo Houck, 17, are leading the movement at JDHS. They said they believe now is the time students need to be heard.

“We want people to know that even though we are young, we are articulate and we should be taken seriously,” McKenna said.

Houck said one the concerns students have is being desensitized to shootings.

“We have these drills and we are used to doing them,” Houck said. “I heard an interview with a student at Stoneman Douglas who said even after he went home, it just felt like a drill.”

JDHS students will march to the Alaska State Capitol where some students will speak and proceed to lie down outside of the Capitol in honor of the victims. Adults wanting to participate in the JDHS walkout are asked to gather at Cope Park and join students after they walk by in the back of the march. Parents are encouraged to join the students at the Capitol but will remain behind the student group.

At Thunder Mountain, adults are also encouraged to meet the students outside as they walk out. They are also asked to stay on the outer edges of the group.

Thunder Mountain senior Kathy Tran, 18, said her school’s walkout is a way to bring students together as one voice.

“This is about empowering students,” Tran said. “Whether it’s banning together in a rally, calling your representatives or making a statement on public media, this is about coming together. Something is wrong and schoolhouses should not feel like they are unsafe.”

While a celebrated idea, there has been some backlash in parts of the U.S. and some students and staff have been threatened with punishment if they participate. In February, students at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School faced consequences — which they were aware of — for their walkout during school hours.

The Juneau School District released a statement regarding their stance on this walkout, saying that as long as students follow protocol, they will not be punished. The high schools shared this information with staff, students, parents and faculty. Each school operates a bit differently, so the district customized statements to fit each school’s circumstances.

“Schools and classes will continue on their normal schedule,” the statement reads in part. “If you want to excuse your child from class to allow them to participate, please contact your school’s attendance office. Absences that are not excused by a parent will be treated as unexcused and normal consequences will apply.”

The statement also states “Staff members will not participate in walkouts or protests in the course of their work, and will remain neutral on issues that are political in nature in the presence of students.”

The students agreed even if there were consequences for the walkout, it would not nearly match what could happen.

“Either we march and get some sort of punishment,” Houck said. “Or we risk the chance of having a school shooting.”

The students also believe this goes beyond a political matter.

“This is not a Democrat or a Republican stance,” Lentfer said. “This is about fundamental school safety.”

The students also hope the event goes beyond having just a one-day impact.

“We want this to just be the start of the conversation (on gun control),” Lloyd said. “This should be something that gets people talking.”

“This should be a wake-up call that we have a voice,” Tallmon said. “We are the next generation and we are not afraid to step up.”

• Contact reporter Gregory Philson at gphilson@juneauempire.com or call at 523-2265. Follow him on Twitter at @GTPhilson.

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