‘School is a place to learn’

Local students speak out about gun control and school safety

As the national gun debate continues, local students have added their voices to the conversation, asking legislators for better gun regulations in the wake of the shooting last month in Parkland, Florida.

“I’m personally tired of having to feel like there’s a moment where I could get shot at school,” said Gabriela Mootz, a freshman at Juanita High School who organized a student walkout protest on Feb. 26.

Lake Washington School District’s top priority is safety, said superintendent Dr. Traci Pierce. Lisa Youngblood Hall, director of communications at Northshore School District echoed this.

“As you can imagine, school safety is top of mind for everyone,” Hall said. “Awareness is key to keeping our school communities as safe as possible. It’s important that we are all talking and working together — the administration, teachers, parents and students — toward that goal.”

But despite the districts’ efforts, some JHS students feel unsafe with the prominence of mass shootings within the United States.

“I’m really tired of my friends not feeling safe at school,” said Sylvia-Anne Bowman, a sophomore who’s organizing future walkout protests. “I’m tired of not feeling safe at school and I feel like I’ve seen on social media the whole cycle we get of thoughts and prayers and then we forget and another shooting happens. That cycle needs to end.”

Students on guns

More than two dozen Juanita students joined the walkout protest last month, marching around the school’s running field with various signs denouncing gun violence.

Bowman plans to lead another protest on March 14 to honor the students killed in Parkland, Florida. The protest will last 17 minutes — one minute for every life lost in the shooting.

“One of the things I think is interesting and that’s very symbolic is the 17 minutes,” said Charleigh Sumner, a sophomore who is heavily involved with the walkouts. “(The) victims of that shooting (who) are represented in the minutes had a chance to be somebody and now they’re just names written down somewhere.”

The students are primarily protesting gun violence and hope their representatives take notice. Sumner even sent multiple letters to her legislative representatives.

While some students call for a ban on guns, Bowman and her group want better regulations.

“This isn’t about guns,” she said. “It’s about how easy it is to obtain them and who’s obtaining them.”

“It is not just (shootings) at schools,” added sophomore Arwyn Antinoro, who has a passion for activism. “(It’s) the fear of how much damage and harm a gun can do in such a short amount of time.”

LWSD and JHS administration have been cooperative in allowing students to peacefully protest. According to Pierce, principals have been working with PTSAs to ensure students know when and where they can practice their First Amendment rights.

Bowman is organizing an all-day walkout on April 20 and while the school won’t punish the students for missing a day, administrators made it clear that any participating student will receive an unexcused absence.

Bowman, Sumner, Antinoro and Mootz said they’re happy to accept the consequences in order to voice their opinions.

“All this (death) could’ve been avoided if the government were to get up and do something about it,” Sumner said. “If it’s your school next, you don’t know if you’re just going to become ‘that girl who died.’”

Fortified schools

LWSD has various school safety measures to prevent and combat a potential school shooter. From monthly drills to commissioned police officers, the district is constantly reviewing safety requirements and looking to improve its policies.

According to Pierce, the district exceeds state requirements on drill frequency and have implemented Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate (ALICE) training.

“It’s not a linear progression,” said LWSD safety and risk manager Scott Emry. “It’s more of a toolbox.”

Hall added that NSD is currently adding safety and security upgrades in Northshore schools.

“We continue to work with every school to train and plan for a variety of situations,” she said. “Our community approved the capital bond measure on the Feb. 13 ballot that will help fund those upgrades.”

According to Emry, the LWSD began using ALICE training in 2015 after law enforcement recommended it. The training aims to allow staff and students to make judgment calls based on the situation.

Some students say this is too little too late. Bowman, Sumner, Antinoro and Mootz could not remember each step and said the training should be held more often and be more consistent.

According to the Bowman, Juanita only goes through ALICE training once a year during winter, which leaves freshman untrained for several months. The district is relatively progressive in its safety procedures, but the students said the current policies feel inadequate.

“On the one hand, I think we’ve implemented improvements,” said Emry. “But there’s also always more we can do.”

As Emry and his colleagues continue to improve district security measures, Bowman and her peers will continue protesting gun violence.

“As a society we should not be at that point,” Sumner said. “We shouldn’t feel that unsafe that we need to have gates or we need to have so many security guards. School is a place to learn. It’s not a place where you should feel unsafe…So increasing the security and fortifying the schools as if we were some army base is not the answer that we need.”

“Because the government is not responding, we need all those (fortifications) and it feels like a prison,” Mootz added.

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