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Arizona students walk out of class to push for gun control

Maya Morales, 15, holds a sign during a walkout and demonstration for gun control at Anderson High School in Austin, Texas, on Friday February 23, 2018. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

LISTEN: Arizona students taking part in national school walkout

PHOENIX — Students at several Valley high schools walked out of their classrooms Wednesday to mark one month since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and called for stricter gun laws.

It was part of a national school walkout day to honor the 17 shot to death at the Parkland, Florida school. The walkouts began at 10 a.m. across all time zones.

“We have numerous schools across the Valley who have talked about walking out and giving a 17 minute of silence in honor of the victims of the Parkland shooting,” said Jordan Harbe, a junior at Mountain View High School in Mesa.

The walkouts across the country were organized by EMPOWER, the youth branch of the Women’s March.

According to the group’s website, the walkouts were meant to press lawmakers to pass laws that will help curb gun violence.

Several of the schools participating in the walkouts were in the Deer Valley Unified School District.

In a letter sent to parents, the district said administrators at several of the high schools had worked with students “to develop a plan for a safe and peaceful assembly for students who choose to protest.”

“Our goal in responding to walk-out plans and other forms of peaceful assembly is to keep a focus on teaching and learning,” the district wrote in the letter.

The letter went on to say the district respects students’ rights for free expression and made clear that “disorderly conduct or leaving campus is not acceptable.”

Harb is a co-chair for the Phoenix March for Our Lives student rally, which will be held on March 24. He was also helping organize a day of action at the Arizona State Capitol on Wednesday for students who are on spring break.

“We’ll be meeting with our legislators all day,” he said. “Whether they want to or not, we will be there and we will make sure that they speak with us.”

Arizona teens speak with lawmakers on day of national walkout

At a House session later in the afternoon, several lawmakers recognized student activists sitting in the gallery. They read statements the teens had written about why they are advocating for gun reforms and praised them for their civic engagement.

“We hear you. Your life counts and your safety matters,” said Democratic Rep. Randy Friese, a surgeon who treated victims of a 2011 Tucson shooting that critically wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Arizona State Rep. Daniel Hernandez said in a Twitter post he stood “in solidarity with all of the young people walking to demand action on gun violence.”

The Tucson Democrat survived the same shooting that wounded Giffords during a public event seven years ago. He was an internist for the then-congresswoman and rushed to her aid after she was shot in the head.

Arizona Rep. Rusty Bowers was among the state lawmakers who held meetings earlier Wednesday with the students who traveled to the Capitol on their spring break.

Bowers agreed with the young people that controls were needed for bump stocks, said Harb. But he said legislator “is still not understanding of the emotional needs we have.”

Students also hold 17 minute ‘moment of silence,’ day of caring

The students wore white T-shirts painted with gun violence statistics as part of a national action aimed at drawing attention to the shooting of high school students in Parkland, Florida.

With the Phoenix high school district and some others in the area on spring break, 17-minute walkouts were held at a scattering of schools. Tucson High School students sat in front of their school before walking out to call for gun safety.

In Phoenix, one elementary school had planned a “day of caring” to support its older students who were participating in the nationwide walkout.

Principal Mike Duff of the K-8 Madison Traditional Academy said many seventh- and eighth-graders were taking part.

About 400 boys from the Jesuit-run Brophy College Preparatory Academy and some 1,000 girls from Xavier College Preparatory private academy next door held separate outdoor events.

The name of each teen killed in the Florida shooting was called out as the Brophy students stood silently.

Student leader Nik Kirk, a 17-year-old junior, said the event was organized through the school’s Advocacy Club to let the teens make a statement about gun violence.

Kirk told his classmates that they “cannot stand idle as others’ schooling becomes endangered and fatal.” He asked: “Does an AR-15 echo the message of Christ?”

Brophy President Adria Renke said she was proud of the students, adding that fostering advocacy is part of the school’s mission.

At Mountain Ridge High School in suburban Glendale, students walked to the football field where some stood in silence and others chanted “enough is enough.” There also was a protest at Apollo High School in Glendale.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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