Steamboat students walk out of class, join nationwide protest | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat students walk out of class, join nationwide protest

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Students from Steamboat Springs High school walked out of class this morning to protest gun violence and remember the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people and injured another 17 just one month ago. 

"Living in Steamboat and living in our safe community, we really feel like we need to not be complacent with all the violence that's happening around the nation," said Samantha Lee, one of seven seniors who helped organize the walkout. "We need to use our voices and speak out. Even if we feel like we are not in immediate danger, this is still something that absolutely affects us and will affect our kids in the future. 

“So this is something that we want to change for our future and for the next generation," Lee added.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, between 150 and 200 Steamboat high school students walked away from regularly scheduled classes, through the front doors of the school, and gathered in front of the school to stand in near silence for 17 minutes — the only interruptions were the voices of student leaders reading the names of each of the victims of the shooting that took place at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, one every minute. A student walkout was also staged at the Steamboat Springs Middle School.

"Yesterday we had a lockdown drill, and so we all had to practice what would happen if a shooter was in the school and what our methods and procedures would be," said Olivia Hobson, another one of the student organizers. "We have had lockdown drills before, but this one felt different in the fact that we are now so aware of what is going on, and we are speaking up for what we think and believe. It's all kind of wrapped itself into one idea that we are desiring change. We want change right now, so that we will be safe."

The protest was part of nationwide movement, which involved hundreds of high schools from Florida to California. In Steamboat, there was a heavy law enforcement presence outside the high school, and only students and the media were allowed on campus during the walkout.

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School officials said they wanted to protect students from members of the community who might want to disrupt the gathering. Student leaders said they had also heard of students who planned to, as a statement or as a prank, set off car alarms during the walkout, but none of that happened.

"I'm proud of our school," organizer Zoe Walsh said.

She also noted that not all the students at the school are in favor of stricter gun laws, but despite the difference in opinion, all of the students were respectful during the protest.

Community members, numbering around 25, stood along the sidewalk just off campus to observe the walkout. Many held signs of support applauded when student leaders went to thank them after the event. 

"Because Steamboat is such a bubble town and kind of isolated I think a lot of students here forget that political activism is an important thing," Walsh said. "We are just trying to get students involved, and that's what we are doing with this walkout and our march and a separate walkout on April 20. We are trying to get students involved and teach them that you can have a voice even though you live in this small town and feel kind of isolated. You can have an impact on bigger things and national issues."

Wednesday's walkout coincided with the end of first period at the high school and the end of second period at the middle school. Meeks expected that students participating would proceed to the next class period, already in session, following the walkout.

"As a district, we recognize and respect our students' First Amendment rights,” wrote Superintendent Brad Meeks in a letter posted on the school district's website. "Our focus on March 14, and any future events like it, is to ensure that students are orderly, respectful, peaceful, and safe as they strive for change."

On March 24, Steamboat students are planning to participate in "March for Our Lives," a national march protesting gun violence and calling for more gun control. That march will occur along Lincoln Avenue, beginning at 10 a.m. at Bud Werner Memorial Library’s Library Hall and ending at the historic Routt County Courthouse.  Then on April 20 — the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting that killed 12 students, one teacher and injured 21 others — there will be another school walkout, which will begin at 10 a.m. and last the entire school day.

"We thought this would be more meaningful if this was a student-led protest," student organizer Amanda Perlman said. "It's really our generation that is affected by it, and we will be voting soon."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.