SEMINOLE – Joining thousands of students across the country March 14, hundreds of teens attending Seminole High School and Osceola Fundamental High School participated in a nationwide walkout bringing awareness to gun violence in the schools.
The walkout was spurred by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed last month. In addition to protesting gun violence, many schools also honored the young lives lost that day with 17 minutes of silence.
Both Seminole and Osceola high schools’ administration supported the walkout, helping students to orchestrate the events.
“We wanted to make sure they had an appropriate environment to go into for it,” said Osceola Principal Michael Bohnet.
Staff worked with students to organize the event, he added.
“It was student led. We wanted to make sure it was the way they wanted it to be,” he said. “We listened to them.”
Following 17 minutes of silence at 10 a.m. in the school’s Rose Garden, an outdoor dining area adjacent to the cafeteria, 17 students each released one orange biodegradable balloon – one of the OFHS school colors – to represent those killed in the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland.
OFHS student Madison Vogel, who is helping to organize the March 24 March for Our Lives in St. Petersburg, spoke about the shooting and gun violence following the balloon release, Bohnet said.
Carol Sterling, a librarian at Seminole, said she was surprised that the majority of students participated in the walkout.
“Initially, we expected some kids to want to stay in the library,” she said.
Most students participated, she said, adding that several Seminole staff members had connections to Stoneman Douglas. A SHS guidance counselor graduated from the Parkland school, she said, while another teacher at Seminole had been taught by Stoneman Douglas athletic director Chris Hixon, who was killed protecting students during the shooting.
SHS did the walkout a bit differently from other schools, she added. Students walked out at 10:17 and then had 17 minutes of silence at that time in memory of the Parkland victims.
Students hung banners around the school, even on the roof of the building, she said. Student musicians performed taps and “Amazing Grace.” Horn players stood at various points around the school and played in unison, she said.
Principal Dr. Thomas Brittain spoke over the loudspeaker about gun violence, as well.
“He said some stuff about being supportive and hoping nothing like this ever happens again,” Sterling said.
Brittain did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
Via email, Lisa Wolf, public information officer for Pinellas County Schools, said that in preparation of the walkout at Seminole, staff involved student leaders in planning, “respected the right of students to participate or not,” “designated an appropriate location for students choosing to participate and any other expectations necessary to ensure a safe and peaceful expression of support by students.”
She added that while students participating weren’t disciplined, those participating in the protest could only participate “during non-instructional times and with principal’s approval.”