‘Enough is enough’

MHS students walk out of class to protest gun violence, call for stricter gun control

T-R PHOTOS BY ADAM SODDERS More than 70 Marshalltown High School students marched along Olive Street, Center Street and other areas of town Wednesday afternoon during a demonstration calling for stricter gun control measures. Protest organizers said the demonstration was in response to the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Fla.

A single-file line of teens holding signs and chanting marched down Center Street, Olive Street and other parts of Marshalltown Wednesday afternoon, calling for a stricter gun control and an end to gun violence.

More than 70 Marshalltown High School students walked out of school at about 12:15 p.m.; organizers said their messages were clear.

“It’s for gun control and gun safety, and just gun regulations,” said protest organizer and MHS junior Noah Mathis. “We felt like it would be a good idea to highlight our student body’s voices, and just look at ways that we could be a part of this movement that was created since Parkland.”

He said the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, which claimed 17 lives, has prompted students across the country to call for stronger safety measures. Last week, students at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines held a similar demonstration.

Leaving from the front entrance of the high school, the students walked in a long line along sidewalks during the protest. Chants of “Enough is enough, never again!” and “End the violence, no more silence!” were repeated as they marched, and cheers erupted from the group when vehicles honked in response to their demonstration.

Many of the students showed particular opposition to the National Rifle Association (NRA) during the march. One participant, MHS senior Isabel Paredes, held a sign that read “Politicians are supposed to represent the U.S., not the NRA,” and she said many other students felt the same way on the issue.

“The main reason why we’re all protesting is that we’re all really tired of being afraid for our safety,” Paredes said, and on the protest added “Growing up as kids, we were told that school was supposed to be a safe environment, and now that all these shootings have been happening over the years, and now that it’s really impacted the whole country, we want to be a part of it, too.”

Sophomore participant Alexis Roberts said she is an aspiring activist.

“I joined this because I’m really passionate about these kinds of things, and this is what I want to do,” she said. “It’s just really nice to see a lot of people come together.”

Roberts added that she knew plans for Wednesday’s protest were being made at least two weeks ago.

The district released a message to students and parents on Tuesday, ahead of the protest. The message read that students who have unexcused absences from class will be subject to school policy, and that students are expected to be in school.

“We obviously respect our students’ right to exercise their First Amendments rights,” said district Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte after Wednesday’s protest. “The preference would be to do it on a special day that wouldn’t infringe on their learning, their education in the classroom, but, from everything that I could tell, our students appeared to handle themselves appropriately and respectfully.”

He added that many students across the United States are holding similar walkout events.

“We’ll continue to push forward, to do everything we can to make our schools as safe as they can be, and yet as welcoming as they can be as well,” Schutte said.

MHS Principal Jacque Wyant said some students who were part of the march had talked to her about their plans.

“I encouraged them to seek out other ways to have their voices heard,” she said, adding she suggested collaborating with the Marshalltown Police Department on educating the public on how to keep guns secure and safe, talking to district administration and school board members, contacting lawmakers and more. “We are not going to discipline students because they did a walkout; when students aren’t in class, that’s considered an unexcused absence, which does follow our attendance policy.”

Wyant said that the school’s primary concern is educating students in class, but added that it is also important for students to understand their rights.

“Part of that education, we do understand also, is to know what their rights are, and to participate, (and) if they do choose to have a walkout or some kind of a protest, that it’s done legally and with a lot of thought about how their message is received and who their audiences are,” she said. “We, in no way whatsoever, were planning or ever communicating that we would discipline a student because they walked out to participate in this protest.”

Mathis said he was not “incredibly concerned” about being part of the walkout during the school day.

“I know there are a few teachers that are … giving out zeros on assignments that aren’t turned in by today,” he said, adding he understood that the school’s unexcused absence policy would be followed as usual for students who missed class Wednesday for the protest.

A protest of a similar nature is planned by students who survived the Parkland shooting. That demonstration is set to take place Saturday, March 24 in Washington, D.C.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com