PORT ANGELES — Students at Port Angeles High School are preparing to walk out of school March 14, showing solidarity with a plethora of students nationwide protesting congressional inaction on gun violence at schools.
Emily Menshew, a 17-year-old senior at PAHS and one of the walkout organizers, said students will walk out of class at 10 a.m. and gather at the flagpole in front of school to peacefully demonstrate for 17 minutes — one minute for each person killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting last month.
She and others demonstrated outside a gun and knife show at the Port Angeles Masonic Temple on Sunday.
Though Menshew and her friends have taken the lead on planning the walkout at PAHS, she credits the teens who survived the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School for leading a national discussion on how to prevent school shootings.
“We have sat back and watched a lot of shootings happen,” she said. “I really commend the kids in Florida for not letting that happen this time. Really, they are the ones that were inspiring us to take this to little tiny Port Angeles and fight our fight here.”
She said there are many students at the school who don’t support the walkout and on campus there are disagreements about what can be done to prevent shootings.
There are students who don’t see guns as the problem, while others see guns as just one piece of the equation. There is one thing everyone seems to agree on though, she said.
“Everyone I’ve talked to has agreed that school shootings and mass shootings in general shouldn’t happen, but there’s a disconnect on why they are happening,” she said. “You can see that with students at the high school.”
Students in Port Angeles School District who participate in the March 14 walkout and other related demonstrations in the next couple of months will not face suspension, said Superintendent Marc Jackson, adding that leaving class would be considered an unexcused absence.
“I think the students have every right — I believe — to express themselves,” he said. “We understand there is a deeper concern with the sense of loss that all of us have been dealing with, with these shootings in Florida, Columbine, Newtown and other school districts.”
He said the teens who are standing up are courageous and that he is hopeful the national discussion can lead to some real solutions.
“We need to stop this,” he said.
He said that when students walk out of class, the school is still responsible for them and wants to know where they are. He encourages students planning to walk out to discuss it with their parents.
Jackson and other school officials have proposed a school-sanctioned discussion on gun violence, though an event hasn’t yet been planned.
Menshew said she supports the idea of having a school-sanctioned event, as long as it is in addition to the students’ planned demonstrations.
“I think it’s important to have that conversation in school, but I think it’s important to let the kids have our voice and our say,” she said.
Menshew said students are planning to participate in other national demonstrations as well. She and a group of friends plan to travel to Seattle for the March 24 March for our Lives.
The group is also planning to walk out of school April 20 — the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. She said it would likely be an all-day walkout, though “we haven’t ironed out the plans,” yet.
During Sunday’s demonstration, Menshew said she found that many people were willing to discuss the issue despite having different views about changing gun regulations.
“A lot of people were really open to having a conversation,” she said. “It’s going to take compromise and conversation to fix this issue. No one side is going to get their way.”
She is encouraging anyone — including adults — who want to be involved to join her “Washington State Teens For Gun Reform” Facebook group. It is intended to be a statewide group, but so far mostly has members from Port Angeles, she said.
Walkouts also have been announced for March 14 elsewhere on the North Olympic Peninsula. They are at Port Townsend High School, Blue Heron Middle School and Chimacum High School.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].