PORT ANGELES — Hundreds of students across Clallam County walked out of their classes Wednesday in memory of the 17 people killed at a Florida high school last month, joining thousands of other students across the nation who participated in the National Student Walkout.
“Today’s walkout was really focused on remembering the 17 lives lost and keeping it focused as a memorial and having that unity — not only within Port Angeles High School, but within the whole nation,” said Emily Menshew, a Port Angeles High School senior who helped organize the walkout at PAHS.
“I think we can all agree that we’re all feeling this loss and we’re all mourning on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting.”
Students across the country walked out of class at 10 a.m. in each of the country’s time zones, with the first wave of protests beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern time. Students in different parts of the country demonstrated in different ways, with some taking to the streets and marching and others standing in silence.
Upward of 200 students walked out of class at 10 a.m. Pacific time Wednesday and gathered in front of Port Angeles High School, where they stood in silence for 17 minutes — one minute for each person who died when a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., one month prior.
Many students carried signs bearing the names of those who died while others had signs that read “#NeverAgain.”
Students used chalk to write the names of those who died on the sidewalks around the front of the school.
The students broke their silence during morning announcements, turning toward the flagpole to say the Pledge of Allegiance.
Menshew and other student organizers said they had not expected such a turnout and were excited to see that so many students cared.
“We made 100 ribbons to pass out and we ran out of those quickly,” she said.
As Menshew headed back to class, Marc Jackson, Port Angeles School District superintendent, told Menshew he was proud of her.
“I’m so very proud of the students because it takes courage to care,” Jackson said in an interview. “We have so many kids and young adults who are voicing their emotions today about something that is very important to all of us.”
Jackson had said previously students would not be punished for walking out of school. Earlier this month, school administrators emphasized that the demonstration is not a school-sanctioned event.
“Allowing students to be passionate about our country and democracy is a powerful learning experience, AND allowing students to make their own choices about how to engage in our democracy is an equally powerful learning experience,” administrators said in an email to parents earlier this month.
“While students may choose to participate in protests, we want to reassure everyone that our schools will be functioning normally and we will work to maintain effective learning environments, and we expect our staff members to support ALL students — those who do participate and those who do not participate.”
Scores of students at Stevens Middle School and Franklin Elementary School participated in walkouts at their schools as well.
Angie Gooding, a teacher at Stevens, said the students who walked out were respectful, articulate and had a positive message.
Students on both sides of the gun violence issue walked out of class, she said, and both sides were respectful of other students’ opinions.
“I wish adults would more often communicate the way our students did today!” she said in a text message. “It was civil discourse at its absolute best, and I’m very proud of kids on both sides of the issue.”
Students in Forks and Sequim also participated in the nationwide walkout. Eighth-grade students at Crescent School in Joyce had planned to write to their state and federal representatives on Wednesday morning.
About 30 students at Neah Bay High School briefly walked out Wednesday morning to participate in the nationwide event.
Mavis Donoghue, a Cape Flattery School District administrative assistant, said the teens walked “all abreast down the road” for about 15 minutes before returning to school.
Elizabeth Watkins, a PAHS senior, said she was surprised at how many had actually walked out of school.
“Simply by being in a high school — in any school — by being a student you feel affected,” she said. “We, like them, are unsuspecting.”
As students at PAHS stood in silence, adults stood across the street from the high school to show their support for the students.
Watkins said she was thankful for the support and appreciated the adults allowing the students to hold their own demonstration.
“A lot of people came up and said thank you and said so many kind things,” she said. “It’s a walkout … but they came to us and said they appreciated what we were doing.”
Menshew has said some students plan to travel to Seattle on March 24 for the March For Our Lives in Seattle. She said students also plan to hold a demonstration on April 20 — the anniversary of the Columbine High School Massacre.
She said on April 20 students plan to march to the Clallam County Courthouse after school. On April 21 there will be an event for community members to write letters to legislators, she said. The details for that event were still being worked out.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb contributed to this report.