CHICAGO (CBS) — Students across the Chicago area walked out of school Wednesday morning, in a show of solidarity with the growing gun control movement led by survivors of the deadly school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida.
The day’s message hit close to home for students at Saint Sabina Academy and at Gavit Middle School in Hammond, Indiana. Many kids at those schools have been personally affected by gun violence.
Hundreds of students at Gavit left classrooms at 10 a.m. to chant, and demand changes to gun control laws.
Principal Michelle Ondas-Biel said many know two children who died in shootings last summer, so the national movement has local significance. Administrators welcomed the 17 minutes out of class; not as a distraction from school, but as a learning experience.
Ondas-Biel said she was particularly reassured Wednesday morning when she saw students passing around a flyer with a schedule of how to use their time during the protest.
“I’m blown away by the fact that they would take it upon themselves to do something like this, and it shows that there’s real passion here, and I want to just help them empower their vision. This is a defining moment,” she said.
Meantime, students at St. Sabina joined others from Leo Catholic High School and Perspectives Middle Academy charter school for a rally in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
The march on the South Side of Chicago was designed to be longer than the 17 minutes called for to honor the lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida one month ago. The extra three minutes were in honor of slain Chicago Police Cmdr. Paul Bauer, and Chicago youths who have lost their lives to the plague of gun violence.
Students said the walkout was empowering.
“It’s not right that you can’t go outside and just feel safe. It’s not right that people have to worry if their kids will come home tonight. It’s not right that people have to worry about losing another young child, just because of the gun violence and things going on today,” one St. Sabina student said.
Former Chicago Public Schools CEO and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also spoke at the St. Sabina rally, calling the kids the future leaders of the nation.
While many schools embraced Wednesday’s walkouts as an opportunity to teach students about political involvement, others warned students they could face disciplinary action if they left school.
Hinsdale Township High School District 86 told parents and students, while it encourages them to express their political views, the district must keep students safe, and could not give them permission to walk out.
That didn’t stop hundreds of kids from joining the National School Walkout at 10 a.m. Organizers said they were surprised at the large turnout, and were proud that classmates were standing up for their rights.
Pfleger urged students everywhere to join the walkout even if they were threatened with detention. He said if a student is detained for joining the walkouts, he or she should call Pfleger and he’ll show up to sit in with them.
In Romeoville, there was a last-minute change of plans for their walkout, after students spotted a possible social media threat. Parents and students at Romeoville High School spotted an Instagram post of a student holding what appeared to be an assault rifle, and notified police.
Investigators determined it was an AirSoft gun, and there was no threat to the school, but officials decided to postpone Wednesday’s walkout as a precaution. Instead, there was a private demonstration inside the school gym, where students shared 17 minutes of silence with the principal.
Meantime, a handful of pro-gun supporters showed up at the school to voice their concerns.
“It looks callous, it looks like we don’t care, but we really do. The problem is what we want to be heard on is that it’s not about the gun. It’s not about the weapon. There are mental health issues that are going on here that are not being addressed,” said Mary Callison, with 1 Million Moms Against Gun Control.
Callison said “I bawled my eyes out” for the victims of the Parkland shooting, but said she believes the kids taking part in Wednesday’s walkouts were being “used as pawns in the anti-gun game.”