While thousands of students were in Tallahassee Wednesday to push for stronger gun laws after last week’s shooting in a high school in Parkland, teenagers across Florida walked out of class in a show of solidarity.
Many students in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties remained out of class for 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Leona Rosado, a 10th grader at Land O’ Lakes High School in Pasco County, was one of about 60 students who marched to the campus flagpole.
“As a student, I’m scared,” the 15-year-old said. “I don’t want to have my parents plan my funeral and I don’t want to see a classmate or teacher pass away. We need changes.”
Over 400 students held a vigil at Tampa Catholic High School outside the campus chapel and called for change. They prayed and wrote the names of the Parkland victims in chalk.
Student organizer Madison Ramberac, 17, said she was driven to act because of her beliefs.
"Even though it's not affecting us, we're supposed to be advocating for the people it is affecting,” she said. “That's our whole faith. If we are not living it out through action, then what's the point?"
Pinellas and Polk school officials drafted guidance for principals to designate safe, secure places on school property.
Linda Cobbe, Pasco County spokeswoman, said at least six schools participated in the walk-out. She said the district approves of the demonstrations, as long as it doesn’t interfere with class time.
“We think that’s reasonable. We want our students to exercise their civic responsibility and we aren’t going to interfere with that,” Cobbe said. “We want to allow them to express themselves, but we also want them to understand that they’re at school to learn.”
In Manatee County, school spokesman Mike Barber said they're so busy dealing with at least 10 threats of violence this week, and haven't had time to plan for walk-outs.
The Women’s March’s Youth EMPOWER group is planning a national school walk-out on March 14. Organizers are encouraging teachers, students, administrators and parents to walk out for 17 minutes.
Sarasota, Pasco, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk school officials all said they are preparing for the demonstration.
“We want to work with our students and student government to make sure that they are peaceful and don’t interfere with the learning process,” Cobbe said.
Ramberac, the student organizer at Tampa Catholic, said she was inspired by similar calls for action across the country.
“I really just want the flame that is lit under all of us to not die out,” she said. “I don’t want this to be swept under the rug like many other issues. These are our lives we’re dealing with here.”
Ramberac thinks she and other students made a difference.
“What’s different this time is that it’s student-based, and people seem to be listening now,” she said.