SoCal students walk out of class in national protest

Chanting slogans, toting signs and at times linking arms, thousands of Southland students walked out of class Wednesday and onto football fields, tracks or lawns, to honor the 17 victims of last month's school shooting in Florida and to call for action to improve campus safety.

At Venice High School, hundreds of students walked peacefully onto the front lawn of the campus facing Venice Boulevard. Some students manned tables urging their classmates to write letters to Congress and sign a petition supporting research on gun violence.

On an outdoor stage, students holding orange daisies stepped forward and read off the names of the 17 people killed during the Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Others held a long banner listing the names of all the victims.

Fourteen student chair-desks were placed on the lawn in front of three teachers' desks, signifying the Parkland victims.

"We don't need 17 more,'' one students said as he walked by the display.

Many students wore orange T-shirts with the words, "Venice Stands with Parkland'' and showing maps of California and Florida linked by a dotted line.

Senior student April Cuarenta wore a sticker that read, "I wrote a letter to Congress.'' She told City News Service she wrote to House Speaker Paul Ryan to tell him, "I'm tired of living in fear coming to school'' and urging him to allow a debate on gun laws.

Several students told CNS they intend to keep pressing the gun violence issue, and they planned to spell out "#Enough'' on the football field in coming days.

At Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, students walked onto the football field. Some held signs that together read "#NeverAgain.'' Others joined hands and formed a circle around the athletic field.

Similar scenes played out across Southern California and the country as students marked the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting and called for federal action to make schools safer and to enact tough gun-control laws. The gatherings at some schools included rows of 17 empty chairs, honoring each of the Parkland victims.

Students at one school in La Crescenta released 17 doves.

At Miguel Contreras Learning Complex, students chanted "No More Guns'' while holding up signs with slogans such as "Enough is Enough'' and

"Our Demand: Background checks for all gun purchases.'' Organizers of the school walkout said they were advocating for a national assault weapons ban, universal background checks and a Centers for Disease Control study on guns.

At Hamilton High School in the Palms area, hundreds of students walked out of their classes, and some parents joined them in protest.

"I'm really proud of all the students at Hamilton High School ... and they are unified in this,'' one parent told Fox11. "This is the defining movement of their generation. As you said, we're happy to talk to our kids about this (issue). And what I said to my son is not much different than what a lot of parents said to their kids: `Do what's right. Do what you have to do.'''

At Eagle Rock High School, several hundred students walked out of classes. A circle of chairs was set up in the quad area, and each bore the name of one of the 17 people who died in the shooting.

A senior named Anthony told FOX 11: "I just feel like it's really an emotional thing, because ... school shootings in general are happening more and more often; and the fact that we're able to appreciate and value these lives that were lost is just a really amazing thing ... and I'm just really glad that we are able to show this support.''

In Long Beach, Mayor Robert Garcia joined students at Marshall Academy of the Arts and praised them for taking part in a national movement.

"We're very proud that you're here showing your support and solidarity for so many students across the country, and just a reminder that you're all our future,'' he said. "We love you guys. Just stay safe and continue to speak out for whatever it is that you believe, especially to make our country better.''

The walkouts, held at 10 a.m. local time at schools across the country, were intended to last 17 minutes -- one for each victim of the Parkland shooting. But many schools worked with students to turn the remembrance into a teaching moment, with assemblies featuring student and administrator speeches. Many of the events also included calls for students to write to legislators and demand action on gun control.

The events fueled a growing empowerment movement for students, whose voices have resonated nationally following the Parkland shooting.

"The students have the power to change the narrative that is going on in our country,'' 2018 California Teacher of the Year Kirsten Farrell told students, parents and educators at the Venice High School gathering.

Los Angeles Unified School District Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian joined students at Poly High in Sun Valley. Last month, she encouraged students to take part in "on-campus activities,'' but she urged parents to "talk to their children and encourage them not to leave campus.''

The Los Angeles Police Department issued a similar message, encouraging students "to express themselves'' but noting ``it is imperative students do it in a manner that is respectful to fellow classmates and Los Angeles residents, as well as remain on their respective campuses during the demonstration.''

"The department understands the need for students to participate in peaceful dialogue within the parameters of school administrators'' but "the safety of our young adults relies on their willingness to remain on campus under the protection of the Los Angeles Unified School Police Department,'' according to the LAPD.

Despite that warning, dozens of students walked off campus from in the Mid-City area, apparently from the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies magnet school near 18th Street and La Cienega Boulevard. The students appeared to be staying on sidewalks, but they were being closely watched by police.

A group of students believed to be from Sal Castro Middle School -- where a gun brought to school by a student accidentally discharged in a classroom and injured two other students in February -- marched from campus to Los Angeles City Hall.

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