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Students Across Tampa Bay Join National Walkout Against School Violence

Mar 14, 2018

Students at high schools across Tampa Bay are speaking out on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland high school shooting.

From Booker High School in Sarasota to George Jenkins High in Lakeland, students participated in a National Walkout. About 100 students met in a courtyard at St Petersburg High in Pinellas County. They sat in silence for 17 minutes for the 17 lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

St. Petersburg student organizer Ava Borchuck said this act lets students who spend so much time at school feel like there’s something they can do.

“If someone walks onto campus with a gun, I can’t do anything about that. I’m pretty much powerless in that kind of situation,” she said. “But this is a situation where I can come together and get a group of people who are (from) all kinds of political parties, all different kinds of backgrounds – people who wouldn’t normally come together – to be able to say something about this. And to say that we think this is wrong.”

While many progressive political groups were supportive of the student-led events, many of the protests were done with the approval of school leaders, such as a large rally held at the football stadium at Clearwater High School. Media reports said 60 percent of the students chose to attend.

Borchuck said she and other St. Petersburg High leaders weren’t trying to work around school leaders in organizing this protest. They just wanted to recognize how much school shootings are affecting student's lives.

“We definitely didn’t want it to be like a symbol of rebellion or anything,” said Borchuck, 18. “What we wanted to do was to say that we don’t feel OK with this – that this is something that is happening as an epidemic across our schools.”

Fellow Senior Remy Fritz said the shootings and concerns about school safety have brought together students who normally wouldn’t agree about politics. She said it’s not just a small groups of students talking about feeling safe.

“When we walk on the campus, we want to be safe. All of us want to be safe whether or not you’re Republican or Democrat, whether or not you agree with President Trump or not, we all want to be safe,” said Fritz, who turns 18 next month. “And we all want our friends and our siblings to be safe.”

Pasco and Sarasota County schools also gave students a chance to participate in the student-led National Walkout. And while Hillsborough County students are on spring break, some are planning to hold an afternoon vigil in Ybor City. One of those organizers spoke Tuesday at a rally sponsored by the Florida League of Women Voters.

“If we had taken action when the first school shooting happened in America, we would not have this problem. Nicolas Cruz would not have murdered children,” said Safiyyah Ameer, 14, a student at Blake High School in Tampa.

Borchuck said today’s walkout is just one way students at her school are speaking up about gun violence. One of her classmates has organized a rally to be held at a church this week, and others are organizing a trip to attend a national march later this month in Washington D.C.