Hundreds of students throughout the Santa Clarita Valley held multiple rallies, demonstrations and walkouts Wednesday to protest against gun violence a month after a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
The on-campus “school safety forums” in William S. Hart Union High School District began at 10 a.m. and lasted for about 17 minutes as students at nearly all of the Hart district campuses listened to student speakers, held up posters, registered to vote and wrote letters to Congress.
“It’s something that I think both sides can rally around and understand that there’s an issue in today’s society, that of gun control or that of gun violence, that we can solve. It’s something that we can take a bipartisan approach to solve,” said Ryan Pugh, co-president of Valencia High School Young Conservative Club at the school’s rally. “Guns are not the issue, but people are the issue. We have a violent society and so we shouldn’t put guns in the hands of the wrong people.”
Other students asked Congress to take legislative action to end gun violence and encouraged students to continue sharing their voices about the topic.
“If this rally is simply not enough to get your voices heard… then I encourage you to do something more,” Valencia High School junior Chretien Li said.
Through their demonstrations the students worked to share their demands, which include ending campaign funding from the NRA, implementing a comprehensive assault weapon ban and instituting universal background checks at any purchase of a firearm, according to a website organizing the demonstrations.
“We will send a message to our district representative Steve Knight, as well as others, so they understand this is not just a request, but a demand of the people,” the student website read. “We’re not fighting the teachers, schools or administrators. Rather we’re fighting for our lives by making sure they’re a priority to our politicians.”
The Hart district administration worked with students at each of the school sites to create their own, unique rally and keep the students on campus during their demonstrations.
Some schools also adjusted their daily schedule by extending brunch times, altering class times or creating a “special schedule” for the day.
At Valencia High School, students released 17 purple balloons into the air honoring the victims from Stoneman Douglas High School. And at West Ranch High School, students placed 17 empty classroom desks on campus with a single black rose on each one.
The demonstrations also extended to Castaic Middle School, where about 200 students walked out to the school’s football field and sat in silence for 17 minutes.
“After the time was up, they peacefully walked around the track displaying their signs,” Castaic Union School District Superintendent Steve Doyle said. “Our future is in good hands… couldn’t be prouder of our students.”
During the day, most students remained on campus, but at Saugus High and at Valencia High some students did walk off campus. At Saugus, students reportedly walked across campus for about 15 minutes during their demonstration before returning to the school grounds.
Just before noon at Valencia High School, a group of students left campus and marched to Santa Clarita City Hall to share their thoughts with city officials.
“If anyone takes anything away from our actions today, from our march from Valencia High School to the City Hall, is that we want is better school security,” senior Kyle Tisdale said. “We wanted to show the world that we stand with Parkland and we stand with all the schools and all the kids across the nation who are scared to be at school.”
Through their actions, the students hoped their concerns and demands would be shared with the area’s other elected officials at the state and federal level.
“We’re going out here and saying we don’t want guns to be accessible to those who should not have them, who don’t have to fear to go to school,” Freshman Cassidy Bensko said. “It’s not something that’s political, it’s not something that’s partisan. This is a matter of children dying and the government not doing absolutely anything about it.”
As they stood chanting outside of city hall, the students met with the city’s communications officials, as well as Santa Clarita City Councilman Cameron Smyth.
“I think that’s a great that you’re willing to stand up for something you believe in even though everyone is not going to agree,” Smyth told the group of students. “The fact that you’re here and wanting to make your voices heard, I really can respect that and appreciate that.”
Although their demands are beyond the capacities of the city’s officials, Smyth wanted to let the students know, as a parent and as an elected official, that their voices were heard.
The councilman also gave the students bus money—which they spent earlier on posters and markers—to return to Valencia High School on the city’s buses.
The students’ choice to leave the Valencia grounds was not approved by the school’s administration, and could result in the students receiving absences or other consequences for the day, according to Hart district officials.
“We’ve already talked to students about consequences if they should walk off campus and miss classroom time,” said Dave Caldwell, public relations officer for the Hart district. “It could be truancy, it depends on what they were doing and when they were doing it.”
Those students who did not want to leave their school campuses during the day decided to meet up in the afternoon at Heritage Park and, once again, hold up signs and march to City Hall.
“I feel like I need to stand up for what I believe in and stand up for the 17 kids that died and all the Americans that die every single day,” West Ranch High School junior Alana Ingram said. “Ninety-six Americans die every day die because of gun violence so I’m walking to end that.”
The afternoon rally included students from several Hart district schools and was an extension of earlier on-campus rallies to improve school safety and end gun violence.
“I just want to feel safe in the environment I’m in,” West Ranch High School junior Maya Jackson said. “I don’t think all guns should necessarily be banned because I understand that’s not going to happen, it’s an unrealistic goal. But I think assault rifles and unnecessary weapons that no one needs in their house should be banned and I think we need gun control.”
To see more photos and videos of the National School Walkout in the SCV, click here.
On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_