Local students joining National Walkout to protest gun violence

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Schools around the country are bracing for walkouts following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, FL last month.

Schools are also scrambling to balance students' First Amendment rights while not disrupting the school day.

Protect kids, not guns. I am not a statistic. Enough is enough.

This is the message from students begging parents, teachers, and lawmakers for change. The Savannah Chatham County School System says the Savannah Arts Academy should have the largest walkout in the area. Students who attend the school say this is because many of them have close friends that went to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the school that suffered the shooting in Florida.

"You shouldn't feel unsafe at school. The fact that is even up for debate is ridiculous to us. Obviously, we're going to stand up and let them know that this cannot happen again," says Alivia Rukmana, a Junior at Savannah Arts Academy. "We want to feel safe when we're learning and teachers should feel safe when they're teaching. End of story."

The walkout is being organized by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women's March. More than 2,500 walkouts have been registered across the country.

The group wants:

  • A ban on assault weapons
  • Expanded background check on all gun sales
  • A gun violence restraining order law for people who show signs of violent behavior

Savannah Arts Academy students say mobilizing this walkout is in their every right.

"It's pretty wrong to stop students from speaking their minds politically. As a nation, we need to hear each other and listen more, and talk over each other less," says Junior, Jack Beamon.

SCCPSS says this is a First Amendment right the school system will not take away.

"The district is supportive of their right to self-expression, but our main goal is to keep students safe and keep our campus secure," says Sheila Blanco, the Communications Director for SCCPSS.

"The school district has not sponsored a walkout. However, we have said to those young people who are interested in doing so, 'if you wish to leave the campus, you are to follow policy as you do in any other instance get permission from your parents, and your parents are responsible then for your leaving the campus," said Dr. Ann Levett, SCCPSS Superintendent of Schools.

The only disciplinary action would be if a student left campus unauthorized. However, these kids say they don't want to break the rules. They want to make rules and make a difference.

"I really want change and I want attention on the issue, and I want adults to respect the students' voice," Beamon said.

The walkout in schools will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday across all time zones and will last for 17 minutes - one minute for each person who died in the Parkland shooting.

The school system says each school in the Savannah area will be handling their walkout differently, so they're encouraging parents to reach out to their child's principal for information.

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