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In planned protests, students walk out of school to make voices heard

Students at Temecula Valley High School sign a banner during a student-led walk out at the school. Courtesy photo
All across the nation, students stood up and made their voices heard by walking out of class for 17 minutes today, one minute for each of the victims of the Parkland school shooting in Florida.
Rain and overcast skies didn’t stop students throughout the Temecula Valley and surrounding areas from gathering around flagpoles, in gymnasiums and on the street to underscore their desire to feel safe when they go to school each day.
A small group of students stand outside Murrieta Mesa High School holding a sign in support of gun control. Kim Harris photo
Several districts, including Murrieta Valley, had guidelines in place to keep students safe while they protested. Some even came up with alternate activities that allow for students to voice their opinions without leaving campus.
“Murrieta Valley Unified School District is not endorsing or encouraging participation in the walkouts today,” MVUSD Public Information Officer Karen Parris said in a social media posting. “For those students who wish to participate, our secondary schools have planned voluntary student-led events where students can honor the Florida victims at a gathering on campus that provides for their safety and supervision.”
Parris said the assemblies would focus on providing a “respectful, empowering venue” for students to talk about how they can keep their schools safe.
Murrieta Councilman Randon Lane waits to speak to students at an assembly at Murrieta Valley High School. Kim Harris photo
“They will also provide a learning opportunity for students to engage in critical thinking about the important topics being discussed across the nation and learn more about how they can advocate for their views in a productive manner,” she said.
A small group of students attempted a walkout at Murrieta Valley High School at 10 a.m., but were quickly told to return to campus, where they could either attend a planned assembly or return to class. After a brief pause, the group walked back onto campus begrudgingly.
In a message posted on the MVUSD website,  www.murrieta.k12.ca.us, District Superintendent Pat Kelley said that when students “advocate for an issue they feel passionate about, it can be a powerful learning experience.”
“Our goal is to ensure that all students feel safe, supported and respected,” he said.
At Lake Elsinore Unified School District, Community and Media Relations Coordinator Mark Dennis said that public educators were prepared for the potential demonstrations and that there were considerations under education code and law that needed to be balanced, including providing a safe area on campus for “civic discourse or student-led observances and forums.”
Calling the protests an “unprecedented student movement across America,” LEUSD posted an advisory to parents online at  www.leusd.k12.ca.us detailing its plan of action, including an altered bell schedule for high school students. The district called for a “respectful observance.”
“We are prepared to safely accommodate any student-led observances that may occur on High School and Middle School campuses on the 14,” the release states.
Students at Temecula Valley High School show signs supporting gun control during a student-led walkout. Courtesy photo
Temecula Valley Unified School District also set forth guidelines for the student-led walkouts.
According to TVUSD Public Information Officer Laura Boss, site principals communicated plans directly with parents.
“We are not endorsing or encouraging participation in the walkout or any associated activities, however, we respect our students desire to express their views and want to provide them with a safe and secure structure. Our primary goals in responding to the currently planned walk-out are to keep the focus on teaching and learning and ensure student and staff safety,” Boss said in an emailed statement to Valley News.
Great Oak High School students march in protest, demanding gun control and safety in schools. Stephanie Lai photo
Students at Temecula Valley High School chanted, “We want change,” and “Show us democracy,” while holding signs and marching during that school’s walkout. Students at TVHS did a moment of silence for the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida, School shooting as part of their protest.
Meanwhile at Great Oak High School, students made their way onto the school’s athletic field where they held signs that read “Never Again,” and “Not One More.” Hundreds of students took part in the event at the school.
Over at Hemet Unified School District, students at Tahquitz High School rallied around the flagpole where they held signs and lit 17 candles in remembrance of those lost in Parkland.  The student’s held hands during a moment of silence as they encircled the flagpole and a silent prayer was said.
a student displays a sign demanding change at Tahquitz high Schol in Hemet during student-led protests. Tony Ault photo
Students chanted, “Enough is enough,” and “Students over violence,” “Stop the threats, students lives matter,”  ” Remember Florida,” “No more fear, no more guns!”
Eric Dahlstrom, THS Principal, joined in with his students as one student on a mega phone pleaded for silence. After the shouts died down the students became silent as each of names of the slain Parkland students were read.  Then a prayer followed in tribute and the sang “Amazing Grace” by Student of the Month Senior Maya Flemming.

Toward the end of the rally a student grabbed the mega phone urging the students to continue their protest to stop gun violence.

“You don’t know what’s like,” the student said.

Students at San Jacinto Unified School District also held events to memorialize the shooting and demand change.
While most seemed to support students’ desire to express their opinions, there was plenty of negativity surrounding the event posted on social media. Some called the walk-outs a “major liberal movement,” some said they did not support students “ditching school,” while others chose to keep their students at home to prevent them from participating.
Some parents called for a “Walk-up” not out movement, encouraging students to reach out to students who sit alone or might otherwise be disengaged, to show care and compassion for others.
“The kids were really good today,” said Dahlstom, adding that the events at Tahquitz were led by the freshman class at the school. “I am really proud of them.”
Tony Ault and Stephanie Lai contributed to this story.

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