One month from the tragic day, students will walk out of school for 17 minutes, commemorating the victims of the school slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on March 14.
“I’m here on behalf of the student body to voice a concern of many students of the shootings in Florida and across the country,” said Connor Truax, a Hood River Valley High School senior. “A lot of students are very, very afraid and concerned about that, and I think it is a very real presence and something every student is thinking about, and we wanted to voice back to the board that that is there.”
Truax, who is Associated Student Body vice president, said, “HRVHS will be participating in what is a nation-wide march. Many students have voiced support for that, and the purpose is to communicate to our state and federal representatives that this is an important issue to us and we need to see change in that,” Truax told the board, whose members include his father, Rich Truax. The venue was Pine Grove School gymnasium; school board spent most of its regularly-scheduled meeting time in a work session on school security.
The subject of the student walkout first emerged Saturday in Sen. Ron Wyden’s town hall at Wy’east Middle School, where he engaged in an impassioned 10-minute dialogue with student Eva Jones on gun violence and its impacts on children in schools.
“It’s becoming real, right now,” Jones told Wyden. “We’re sick of this. As students, we are the ones most affected, but I can’t even vote. It makes me so angry, we are the ones being impacted by this and I know we can have an effect, but we can’t make a voting difference.
“It’s terrifying,” said Jones, a sophomore. “Honestly, since seventh grade, I walk into a classroom and say, ‘Where will I hide in a school shooting?’ or ‘This classroom has so many windows, we have a great view of the mountain, but they can just shoot us all in here.’ Honestly, we are so done living with that.”
She announced the planned March 14 walkout to the audience, adding, “Me and many of my classmates will be walking out for 17 minutes and I hope you guys can all join us.”
“This has got to be the time we talk about it,” Wyden said about school safety as the nation reels from the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida Feb. 14.
“And we need to call these incidents what they are: school slaughter,” Wyden said, speaking from the stage at Wy’east Middle School’s Performing Arts Center, to an audience of about 75 people.
He also said that arming teachers, proposed by President Donald Trump, “would be a big mistake we would live to regret,” adding that it will put children in greater danger.
Truax told the board Wednesday, “I think I speak on behalf of the majority of the student body and staff who allowed us to have discussions about this in class on the issue of school shootings, that it’s been very important to students to voice their concerns. On a related matter, I think I can safely say I speak for the student body when I say the majority of students and staff are very opposed to arming teachers or anything of that nature.”
Jones told Wyden, “Putting more security in schools is not the answer. I don’t want to go school in a place that’s like a prison. They’re already locking all the doors and you already have to show your ID pass even though you know all the teachers and they know you. That’s not the kind of educating area we want to be in and that can’t foster learning. If you have that kind of community and atmosphere you can’t be focusing on creative thinking because you have to follow all these rules. I just don’t think that’s the solution.” Jones has been active for the past two years in the GirlsUp Chapter, raising funds and awareness about obstacles to educational opportunities for girls in developing countries.
Wyden responded, “You said you are a student and you don’t vote. Don’t sell yourself short. You’ve got parents who vote. You can tell them how you feel, you can tell your parents’ friends how you feel. You will be voting soon in a couple of years and this ought to be the time you tell elected officials, ‘I’m watching you all the time. How did you vote on background checks? How did you vote on assault weapon bans? How did you vote on all these measures?’ So the first thing I say is don’t sell yourself short. You can really have a powerful voice. This is the time when a lot of people have said listening to a student is the key, and I like your point about not letting it slide. This is the time.”
Referring to the recent televised town hall in Florida following the Parkland murders, Wyden said, “People said in the gym, ‘Now is not the time to talk.’ That’s ridiculous. It was time to talk it about it a long time ago. This has got to be the time.”
Regarding law enforcement in school, Wyden said, “My sense is there has got to be something in between having your school being an armed camp and doing nothing. It sounds like your school is already doing a lot. When I talk about police and law enforcement support, first of all, I don’t want teachers to be armed. I think that’s a big mistake. We start down that path and we’re really going to regret it. My guess is that more students are going to get hurt. Let’s continue this discussion but I think there is something in between.”
Jones said, “I agree, but a lot of people have been talking about more security, we need to lock the doors to our classrooms and lock kids inside during passing periods. Honestly, I don’t think that’s going to make a change either because if you were a school shooter you’d just go in and during lunch or passing period or times when it’s not regulated.
“If you take that to an extreme, then we’d have closed in lunches, but I want to be able to hang out with my friends and learn. I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” she said.
Wyden encouraged Jones and her peers, saying, “You’ve got a lot of power. Students have a lot of power right now. Students underestimate how much power they have right now, and this is as important as it gets. This is safety. This is their future, this is whether they’re going to have a family and jobs and a life of happiness, or we’re going to have a life of tragedy. There’s nothing more important that I’m doing.”