Hundreds of Free State students stage walkout in protest of school shootings

Several hundred Free State High School students protest gun violence in schools by walking out of class, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. Students, who returned to school for the first time since learning of a shooting threat made by a classmate on social media, held signs with the names and ages of the 17 victims of the recent school shooting in Florida.

More than 400 Free State High School students walked out of classes Wednesday morning in protest of gun violence in schools, including the mass shooting exactly one week ago at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The protest was part of a national response to the Feb. 14 tragedy in Parkland, where former student Nikolas Cruz is suspected of fatally shooting 17 people, most of them teenagers.

On Wednesday at 10 a.m., the Free State students walked out of classes and gathered outside the main entrance to the school, which has an enrollment of 1,758. The crowd then stood in silence for 17 minutes to honor the 17 victims in the Florida shooting. Many students carried signs bearing handwritten pleas for gun control: “Protect kids not guns,” “Enough is enough” and “Kids should learn reading not hiding.”

Another simply said, “We could be next.”

That “terrifying” thought is what motivated Jaylee Getten to participate in Wednesday’s walkout, the Free State senior said. Lawrence police investigated an “indirect threat” allegedly made via Snapchat by one Free State student earlier this week. The Snapchat post, details of which have yet to be disclosed publicly, was reportedly a threat to shoot people at the school.

The Douglas County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Wednesday that it has received the case from Lawrence police and that it is under review for a charging decision.

“I don’t ever want that to be me or my classmates,” Getten said of a potential shooting. “Something needs to change.”

Margaret Uhler, a Free State senior, agreed.

“I think you don’t expect it to happen to you, and then just days later, we had a threat,” said Uhler, who also worries about the increasing number of states that allow the concealed carrying of firearms on college campuses.

There are at least 10 states, including Kansas, that permit concealed carry at postsecondary institutions. That’s a concern to Uhler, who plans on entering college next fall.

“I shouldn’t be expected to wear a bulletproof vest just to get my education,” Uhler said.

Some students, like junior Lauren Griffin, said they walked out of classes Wednesday to send a message to lawmakers: No more school shootings. Griffin said she wants to see a change to our nation’s gun laws.

She feels it’s the best way to honor the victims and survivors of last week’s violence at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“I think those kids deserve to be respected and shown that we care,” Griffin said. “Even if the people in charge refuse to show their respects to them, we will.”

Dozens of students participated in similar protests Wednesday at Lawrence High School, Principal Matt Brungardt said.

Between 30 and 40 students staged a walkout for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m., Brungardt said, followed by another 17-minute walkout at 11 a.m. Brungardt said 65 to 70 students, plus one teacher, walked out of classes and read a statement, “similar to what happened at Free State.”

During lunch, another group of students created signs “protesting gun violence and supporting the students in Florida,” Brungardt said. That group, which started with around 10 students, had grown to about 30 over the next two lunch periods, Brungardt said, with the students continuing to sit in the school’s rotunda well into the afternoon.

In addition, around 20 students at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School staged a similar protest Wednesday morning.