Walking out of their classrooms and into the school parking lot at 10 a.m. Wednesday, an estimated 1,000 students at Lafayette High School joined their peers across the city, state and the nation to demand Congress take action to stop gun violence.
Carrying signs that said “Enough is Enough” and “Love Generally,” a take on the school mascot, “The Generals,” students were joined by state officials and Urban County Council members. The teens led the event which by 10 a.m. was orderly if spirited. Fayette District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said there were no reports of problems at any of the events at Fayette schools as of noon.
“We will be remembering all of the victims of recent school shootings and all of the school-based violence that is happening here locally, in Lexington, and in communities across the country,” said student Taleah Gipson. “We must not forget all of the lives that have been lost while our legislators are slow to remedy the problem. We must unlearn fear and hate. We must amplify our voices. go out and vote and demand that our schools are safe and remain so.”
“The whole event is extremely important,” said student Eli Dryer, “It’s symbolizing how as community members, politicians and students we can unite to come to a common goal which is ultimately to have safety in schools.”
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Eli has been working on a voter registration drive as part of the day’s events, already registering several hundred students.
Principal Bryne Jacobs said students and adults were working collectively to change culture and ensure schools are safe.
“That is already happening, but this just magnifies that,” said Jacobs. He said that some of the schools 2,200 enrolled students who chose not to participate and stayed in class did so not because of political objection but because their families were concerned for their safety.
The walkout lasted 17 minutes — one minute for every life lost in Feb. 14’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla.
“You can’t keep standing outside during a storm with an umbrella, and keep saying that it isn’t raining,” student Maliya Homer told the crowd, referencing school gun violence. “It’s raining. Remember their names, remember each and every single piece of our future that was torn away from us.”
Dorian Brown, a student in the crowd, said, “ I came out to support the people who lost their lives for no reason.” Student Omar Toure said he walked out because “We should stop the shootings. Gun violence is wrong.”
Jennifer Crockett, a Lafayette parent and a paraeducator for the school district, watched students prepare for the walkout as she started the seventh day of her new job as entrance way monitor, a position created at Lexington high schools because some schools needed more protection at school entrances.
“People are happy I’m here...as an extra layer of security and a friendly face,” said Crockett. “It’s my job to make sure that nobody comes into the building that shouldn’t. We also walk around the perimeter of the building. We have 83 doors here so we have to make sure that they are locked.”
Across town, more than 150 students at STEAM Academy met in the school’s courtyard for a student-led protest. Several students spoke about why the movement is important to them, and dozens more wrote on orange pieces of paper their feelings about gun violence in schools.
English teacher Kari Patrick said it was completely student led: “They came to me and said they wanted to do it. I helped them along and gave them the guidance teenagers need to get something like this completed. Everything was all them, though. They did a great job with it.
“My students will see that their voice matters and that they can make a change,” Patrick said. “Whether that be for mental illness or mental health in our country or that be to tighten gun laws.”
Sophomore Rachel Herrin was one of the leaders of the movement:
“I knew something needed to be done, whether it was just at my school or trying to spread it for more of the schools,” she said. “We need to get the attention of the legislators and the government officials who can actually do something about this, because while we are still students and we have a partial voice, we aren’t legally allowed to do anything.”
“I hope that we have a little more control over how many people can get hurt, because these people shouldn’t have lost their lives at all,” she said. “I’m hoping America can become more safe, especially in our school system, because these people are trying to get an education.”
At Henry Clay High School, where a student’s loaded gun created panic March 1, principal Paul Little had sent families a letter saying that students who wanted to participate in the walkout could assemble on the football field where they would discuss school safety. Students at Frederick Douglass High, where a student recently accidentally shot himself in the hand while in class, also gathered on their football field with students standing in the shape of a heart and other symbols to represent the lives of the students lost to the school shootings in Florida and Kentucky.
Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk wrote parents a letter late Sunday night saying that because of Fayette County’s tense last several weeks, the district for the first time was moving toward putting fixed metal detectors at Frederick Douglass and other schools and having all students pass through them in addition to random checks.
In the span of six hours in February, three teenagers died of gunshot wounds in Lexington, Caulk said. And in the span of nine days this month, students from three high schools — Frederick Douglass, Henry Clay and Paul Laurence Dunbar — were arrested for serious crimes involving guns and the safety of campuses. Other schools dealt with rumors and copycat threats following the fatal school shootings in Western Kentucky and Parkland this year..
On Wednesday, Crawford, Beaumont, and Morton Middle all allowed students to gather outside. At Jessie Clark and Leestown middle schools, students walked out of class and gathered for events at specific locations around their buildings.
Some schools such as Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Tates Creek High School, and Lexington Traditional Magnet Middle planned assemblies in the gym. E.J. Hayes Middle School invited Lexington Mayor Jim Gray for an afternoon event with guest speakers and student speakers.
At Bryan Station High School, students watched a video developed by fellow students about safety at 9:45 a.m. At 10, students walked out of their classrooms and gathered in small groups throughout the building for discussions. Family members were invited to come to school to watch the video and discuss safety with the principal and law enforcement officers during the day and again in the evening.
At SCAPA, sixth- through eighth-graders silently lined hallways and locked arms at 10 a.m., Deffendall said. Participation in all the events was voluntary, and Lexington school district leaders said they did not plan to discipline students who participated.
The Courier-Journal reported that about 125 students at North Oldham High School would be disciplined — probably with a 30 minute detention -- for participating in a walkout, after being warned against it by school officials. The school cited safety reasons for their decision and offered alternatives, including allowing students to walk into the hallways or a discussion event later Wednesday for the entire district.
“The punishment was for defying authority, not for participating,” Lori McDowell, director of communications for Oldham County Schools, told the Courier-Journal.
Students at Marshall County High School in Benton, where a student was charged with shooting and killing two of his classmates and injuring several others in January, gathered with other Kentucky students Wednesday at a Students for Student Safety rally in Frankfort, the Courier-Journal reported.
At Lafayette “the best part of it was it was all student voices,” said school board member Ray Daniels, who attended that walkout along with board member Daryl Love. Love, who wore a button that said, “Not One More,” said students were challenging lawmakers to make a difference with legislation “that can actually help improve the safety of our schools.”
After the walkout, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes met in the parking lot with the student organizers. She said they, like their peers across the state and nation, “want to see change, they want to see more resources coming to schools, they want to see their teachers respected, they want to see our laws updated so they can feel safe and secure when they go to school instead of fearful for their lives and the friendships they’ve made and the futures they want to build.”