Walkouts held at South Florida schools to protest gun violence

National movement held on 1-month anniversary of Parkland school shooting

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor, Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor, Erica Rakow - Reporter, Ian Margol - Reporter, Todd Tongen - Anchor/Reporter

PARKLAND, Fla. - One month to the day after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students there and nationwide were staging walkouts Wednesday as part of their message to end gun violence.

The walkouts were taking place at several schools throughout South Florida, including the Parkland school where 14 students and three teachers were killed in the Feb. 14 massacre.

Students and teachers walked out of their schools for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. Many wore the Parkland school color of burgundy, while others wore orange shirts that said "Never Again." 

"It shows that what we're doing and what everyone's doing is really working, and will continue to work as long as we keep pushing for it," Stoneman Douglas junior Zach Gordon said.

Parents who have children that attend Stoneman Douglas held signs outside the school during the walkout to show their support.

One woman held a sign that read: "Our kids will not be ignored."

"We are here to support them 100 percent. This is the beginning," Allison MacLeod said. "They will be joined by students across the United States of America. They are all part of this generation and will not accept this. There will be change." 

Other signs had messages like, "Protect our kids, not guns," and, "We stand with Stoneman Douglas."

The nationwide walkout is both a memorial and protest action in response to the Parkland school shooting.

Among their demands, participants want Congress to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks before gun sales and pass a gun violence restraining order law that would allow courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.

Participating schools in Broward County include Coral Springs High School and Cypress Bay High School. Miami-Dade County schools participating include Miami Central Senior High School, Miami Country Day School, Gulliver Preparatory School and Coral Gables Senior High School.

Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said he's proud of the students' focus and determination to turn their grief into action.

"They're saying never again and we want to see real change, and for that I think we should be proud of our young people," Runcie said.

Runcie said the school district provided guidance ahead of the walkout so that students are safe. He encouraged students to stay on campus.

Students at Fort Lauderdale High School did just that, gathering together at a courtyard on campus.

One student told Local 10 News reporter Ian Margol that the walkout for her was less about pushing for gun law changes and more about remembering the victims killed in the Parkland school massacre.

She said she is saving her push for political change for an upcoming visit to Washington, D.C.

Some Fort Lauderdale residents also gathered to support the students and cheer on their efforts.

"I was during the Vietnam War resistance and I protested during that time, and I think we made the difference then," Wayne Maschi said. "And these kids -- thank God they're making a difference now, because it's been a long time since people stood up to the wrong things that are going on in this country."

At Cooper City High School, students gathered in a large circle around 14 empty desks and three podiums in remembrance of the 14 students and three staff members who were killed in the mass shooting. 

Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho issued a stern warning to students taking part in the movement.

"Students are not permitted to leave campus, and behavior that disrupts school operations or threatens the safety and order of our schools will not be tolerated," Carvalho said in a statement.

Carvalho joined students for the walkout at iPrep Academy in Miami.

"It makes me feel very proud," he told Local 10 News reporter Liane Morejon after shaking hands with students. "I have incredible pride in the voice of students and I am absolutely touched by the fact that they chose to demonstrate their solidarity with their colleagues in Parkland." 

Over at the private Miami Country Day School, students participated in the national walkout and held a rally at a nearby park.

"We're hoping to change the gun laws and hopefully make it better for every school. It's just so we never have to repeat what happened in Parkland," one student said. "We just hope to protest, and just serve as an example to other schools and we just want to get stricter gun laws passed." 

After the walkouts, Runcie held a news conference where he praised all of the students who participated.

"Today, across the district and the nation, students have clearly made their voices heard," Runcie said. "They are working to transform their anger, their grief, their concerns over the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tragedy into something positive -- into a wave of activism -- a calling for change in this nation."

Runcie said he is "extremely proud" of the students efforts.

"Their efforts so far have brought about change here in the state of Florida that several weeks ago we never would have thought possible," he said.

Outside the school board building, hundreds of students from a coalition of six schools marched over the Third Avenue bridge and then chanted, calling for gun law reform. 

"It has been a month since this awful shooting and we just don't feel safe in schools anymore. We need better gun control rules or laws," student-activist Nina Canora said. 

Runcie said this proves to critics that this generation wants action not words.

"I will tell you that the district has played no role in organizing any activities for our students," he said. "I mean, I think those are the same critics that said our students are actors, or they are paid actors or they are not even students. No, this is a movement that is being organized by students."

Runcie said all walkouts in his school district were peaceful and he thanked law enforcement officials for keeping everyone safe. 

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