Thousands of students across the United States walked out of class Wednesday, March 14 to express their feelings about school safety and gun reform. Billings public school students also participated in the nationwide protests.
Billings Senior High junior Clara Bentler was the main organizer for the student-led walkout for her school. Bentler commented that she was motivated by the students in Parkland, Florida, who lost 17 of their peers to gun violence.
“So much credit to the Parkland kids,” said Bentler. “They are so motivating and they were the reason we decided to become active. We didn’t want this to happen in our town.”
The walkout took place at 10 a.m. and lasted for 17 minutes. High school administrations across the country prepared for the event to prioritize safety and maintain order.
Jeff Uhren, principal of Billings Senior High School, commented that the school had planned for the walkout and reiterated that safety was the main priority.
“The school has no position either side,” said Uhren. “The students have a first amendment right to do this. We obviously have our school rules and policies; however, we follow both of them. Our biggest concern its the students’ safety.”
According to Uhren, local schools were in contact with law enforcement, district administration, and with their staff to make sure that students were safe during the walkout.
The student behind the walkout made flyers and organized information on social media to inform students that may be interested in voicing their opinion about this issue.
“We worked super closely with our administration,” said Bentler. “Without their help it would have not gone as smoothly as it did.We didn’t know what to expect, but the turnout was amazing and I definitely think we raised awareness.”
According to Bentler, 500 students participated in the event. The entire student population at Billings Senior is 1,700 students.
“It doesn’t stop here,” said Bentler. “We will be calling our legislators and voting as well.”
Senior Rose Martinez was one of the 1,200 students at Senior High that didn’t participate in the walkout. Martinez opted out of the event because she’s not convinced that it is the best option for students.
“Being quiet for 17 minutes isn’t going to help,” she said. “Gun violence isn’t the problem, it’s the people. If someone gets hurt by a knife or a car, would we try to get knife laws or what? The kids have a mental or physical problem that needs to be fixed.”
Bentler commented that the mission statement of the walkout is that school safety is not a political issue. Everyone should be concerned and students are demanding legislation that protects and prepares schools in the event of a mass shooter situation.
“A lot of us will be able to vote soon,” said Bentler. “Whoever proposes common sense gun laws will have my support.”
Senior High junior Ana Strong Garcia was also a main organizer for the walkout at her school. She gave a speech during the event and led chants to motivate the students that participated.
“I will never forget seeing everyone coming out of the school with signs and ribbons of support,” said Strong Garcia. “I really did not think we would have this much participation and support and I am so thankful that people care and walked out.”
All walkouts in local schools were successfully conducted without major concerns; students were able to voice their opinion and raise awareness about issues that affect them.
“I did not want to sit and watch while history is being made in other places,” said Strong Garcia. “It was pretty amazing to see all the students walking out knowing that my friends and I helped make it happen.”