Like many teens in the nation, following the shooting deaths of 17 students and staff at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, high school students in Federal Way plan for their voices to be heard.
At least three events are planned at Federal Way high schools on March 14, March 24 and April 20.
Todd Beamer High School senior Koby Okezie feels strongly about students speaking out and has worked with others to arrange for a 17-minute walkout next week, one minute for each person killed in Parkland.
“I would love for the whole school to get involved in this,” he said.
Okezie said he “loves guns” and enjoys shooting them, but does not believe civilians need AR-15s, the type of weapon used in the Parkland shooting, which is designed to kill people and not for self defense.
“For a long time I’ve felt like we needed this type of change,” he said, adding he has been discouraged that lawmakers have failed to ban them.
Spurred by the Parkland students’ demands for state and national leaders to do something, as well as the 17-minute National School Walkout also planned for March 14, Okezie said this is Todd Beamer students’ chance to protest gun violence and remember the victims of the Parkland shootings.
He said he believes the walkout is important for students, especially in light of politicians’ inaction.
“We have to be the ones to advocate for our future and for the lives and rights of all students,” Okezie said.
A solidarity walk is also planned for March 24, a Saturday, at Federal Way High School. It is in conjunction with the “March For Our Lives” March 24 in Washington D.C.
Federal Way City Councilman Jesse Johnson said he received an email inviting him to participate in the solidarity walk, which will begin at 10 a.m. at the high school and conclude at Town Square Park, and he intends to attend.
“For me, personally, I want to see something happen with gun control,” Johnson said.
He said, while there have been other school shootings in the country, Parkland has served as a wake-up call, and he hopes student action will lead to change on a national level.
“I feel like every type of movement has been student-led in some way,” Johnson said, adding he believes that peaceful walkouts or protests are beneficial to students. “It gets them civically engaged.”
Superintendent Dr. Tammy Campbell said the school district has opted to approach the walkouts as others in the area have. The walkouts will not be prohibited, but policies and procedures must be followed.
She said, while it is important for students to attend school, the school district does not want to discourage civic activism and leadership.
“We absolutely want our scholars to have a voice and to engage in civic activities,” Campbell said after the Feb. 27 school board meeting. “It’s part of what we’re preparing them for.”
In a letter sent to parents of high schoolers, Campbell said the walkouts are an opportunity for students to learn about civic participation and “knowing and understanding their constitutional rights.”
“We believe our scholars have a powerful voice that can affect change, and we have never been more proud of our young people who are expressing their First Amendment right as engaged, active citizens,” according to the letter.
Parents were notified that classes will follow a normal schedule, regardless of a walkout, and proper procedure must be followed.
This means if parents choose to allow their students to participate in a walkout, they must first call the school to excuse them from class. Otherwise, their absence will be recorded as unexcused.
Campbell also said that safety is always the district’s top priority, and staff will have a plan in place to make sure students are safe during any walkout activities.