Students walk out to protest gun violence

'It's up to us,' to break the cycle of shootings, says RBHS student leader

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By BOB UPHUES and BOB SKOLNIK

Editor and Contributing Reporter

Hundreds of students at Riverside-Brookfield High School and Lyons Township High Schools and other local schools walked out of their classes at 10 a.m. on March 14 to protest gun violence and gather in solidarity with survivors and the 17 Parkland, Florida, high school students killed by an assault rifle-wielding former classmate on Feb. 14.

The walkouts were part of a nationwide movement seeking to strengthen U.S. gun laws and prevent the kinds of mass shootings carried out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month.

As they left the school buildings into freezing temperatures, many students held signs reading "End Gun Violence," "Never Again" and "Fear Has No Place in Our Schools." At both local high schools, well-wishers and the press were kept at a distance.

While several students spoke to their classmates at RBHS, the lack of any type of sound system made it impossible for many, including a reporter who attended, to hear what students leading the walkout had to say to their classmates.

The RBHS student newspaper, The Clarion, later posted video of the speeches from the rally at the stadium.

One of those student leaders, Olutosin Olowu, shared with the Landmark her brief statement, which emphasized the need to address gun violence.

"Unnecessary gun violence shouldn't be politicized. Safety shouldn't be politicized. The well-being of our children shouldn't be politicized," Olowu said. "School shootings should not be normalized, and we have the power to break the cycle.

"The power has and will always lie within the youth. It's up to us."

Several hundred students began leaving the school a little before the official 10 a.m. start time and gathered on the track. Students walked around the field at the RBHS stadium both before and after student leaders addressed them.

About 25 well-wishers, some holding signs, stationed themselves along the south fence of the stadium and encouraged the participants with shouts of "we hear you, we're listening" and "register to vote" as they paraded around the stadium.

RBHS principal Kristin Smetana estimated that about 600 – or a little less than half – of the student body participated in the walkout, which went off without incident.

"All students who chose to participate in the student-led National School Walkout complied with the expectations put in place to ensure students' safety," Smetana said in an email. "Students promptly returned to class after the 17 minutes transpired."

According to LTHS spokeswoman Jennifer Bialobok, about 300 students took part in the walkout at the North Campus in LaGrange while about 700 walked out at the South Campus.

Both gatherings were held at the flagpoles outside each school, where students read out the names of the 17 Parkland victims and released 17 balloons. About two dozen community members gathered across Brainard Avenue from the North Campus.

"We weren't surprised by the respectful and peaceful demonstration of our students," Bialobok said in an email. "We have very mature students, who obviously feel strongly about the issue of school violence. We support their right to peacefully demonstrate and have their voices heard."

While the actions of high school students have gained most of the attention nationally, students in middle schools and grade schools in Brookfield, North Riverside and Riverside participated in activities that included everything from making banners to moments of silence, holding prayer services and their own walkouts.

About 35 elementary school students in grades one through six at Congress Park School in Brookfield staged a silent walkout to demonstrate against gun violence in general and for more safety in schools.

The students, who were outside for about 20 minutes, mostly stood silently in front of the main entrance at Congress Park. After about 15 minutes, Congress Park Principal Claudia Jimenez led the students on a short walk around the school.

Jimenez said that the walkout was organized by the students themselves.

"It wasn't organized at the school level, but we felt that it was important for them to exercise their own rights if they felt that they wanted to," Jimenez said.

Each principal in LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 was allowed to decide if they wanted to allow students to participate in National Walkout Day and, if so, what kind of participation, they would have.

A few Congress Park parents showed up to support the students.

Maria Secaida, the mother of a fourth-grader who participated in the walkout, said she came to support her daughter.

"We need the government to do something to keep our children and school staff safe," Secaida said.

Jen Brown, the mother of a second-grader, also came to support the students.

"It's certainly a heavy topic, but the kids are more aware than we think they are," Brown said.

Students held signs carrying messages such as "Books Not Bullets," "Arms are for Hugging," "Make Better Gun Laws" and "My Future is Bright and Safe."

Two teachers and District 102 Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Christopher Finch were also outside quietly observing.

"It was quite pleasant," Finch said.

Fifth-grade teacher Joseph Giordano said that eight of the 25 students in his class participated in the walkout. The other students in his class remained behind learning about the Louisiana Purchase and the construction of railroads.

At St. Mary School in Riverside, students gathered outside alongside Principal Barbara Rasinski and Rev. Tom May, the parish's pastor, for a prayer service.

While school officials kept students either on school property or adjacent to their buildings during local walkouts, one Riverside school decided to let students wander farther afield.

About 10 students at Tallgrass Sudbury School, a tiny, progressive school housed at Riverside United Methodist Church, walked through downtown Riverside, carrying signs decrying gun violence.

The decision to walk around the central business district, like all decisions at Tallgrass Sudbury, was reached by consensus among students.

"This protest is particularly important to our students, because some of them transferred to our school because they were either bullied or just felt like their voices weren't being heard at public/conventional schools," said Helen Tornquist, a staff member, in an email prior to the walkout.

Reader Comments

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Kevin Kubaczeski from Brookfield  

Posted: March 21st, 2018 8:10 AM

Jon, u are very good at misreading and twisting comments. Never at any point have I said any student was denied the right to counter protest. Again, if the school does not make accommodations for any all all other walkouts, it would be unconstitutional. As far as the AR-15, it was not standard issue during the Vietnam war. READ YOUR OWN SOURCE MATERIAL. The AR-15 was purchased, studied, tested and became the M-16. NOT A SINGLE AR-15 HAS BEEN ISSUED TO ANY BRANCH OF THE MILITARY. You would know this if you read the entire article. Why is this so difficult for you to understand? According to the FBI, 252 people died from all rifles combined in a country with 330M people for 2015. Compare that to 1,600 by knives, 437 by blunt objects, 624 by hands and feet, 319 from fire, drowning and strangulation/asphyxiation. It's pretty clear these "assault type" rifles aren't as responsible for nearly as much carnage as anyone may claim. More children die from parental abuse and neglect than by firearm, putting parents a greater danger to children than guns. But I must admit u do bring up a very important point in all of this: current laws are hardly enforced. That then begs the question: how would even more laws help?

Jon Points  

Posted: March 18th, 2018 5:01 PM

Mr. Kubazceski, you are very good at hyperbolic claims and statements. You are obviously upset that you believe there were no accommodations made for the students to protest more guns in schools. However, the "other side" does not exist in your argument at the schools. I challenge you to identify one student that can be independently verified who was denied the right to protest. In regards to the AR-15, it was at standard issue during the Vietnam War, which if you read the entire article you would know that. In regards to the back ground checks, I did not deny your claim that the state police run a background check through an FBI database looking for infractions. But, it states in the article that that "authorities in many cases, lack the manpower to send officers out to remove firearms from the home of someone whose FOID card has been revoked." So, the law is on the books, but not really enforced all that well. The gun debate is not going to go away and hopefully tomorrow's generation can protect their children from the stupidity of today's adults in allowing so many assault type guns on our streets.

Kevin Kubaczeski from Brookfield   

Posted: March 16th, 2018 1:38 PM

Jon, from ur own source: Once the card is issued, the State Police reruns each cardholder through the FBI system every 24 hours and revokes the card of anyone who has incurred a recent infraction. Bless ur heart, but u really need to up ur game when it comes to debating guns and current laws.

Kevin Kubaczeski from Brookfield  

Posted: March 16th, 2018 1:30 PM

Jon, ur spreading false information and are in need of dire education on constitutional law. I am not questioning the students' ability to protest. What is up for question is the accommodations thay were made for them to protest one side AND THUS FAR NO ACCOMMODATIONS TO PROTEST THE OTHER SIDE. Accommodations must be made for al or none, or it is unconstitutional. Ur knowledge of the AR-15 is laughable. Ur very own article states that the AR-15 is a civilian variant of the M-16, which is select fire (3 shot bursts or full auto.). U should read ur own references. It literally repeats "military variant" several times and even states "known to the masses as an "AR-15 assault rifle" and frequently misnamed as a "machine gun," the AR -15 is sold mostly as a semiautomatic weapon......an assault rifle....is fully automatic." The civilian variant HAS NEVER BEEN USED IN ANY WAR AND IS NOT ISSUED TO ANY MILITARY BY ANY GOVERNMENT. As a FOID holder, my name is checked against several data bases ON A DAILY BASIS to ensure I am in compliance with FOID laws. This is IL law. There's nothing to debunk. Bless ur heart, but u will need to read ur source material before u can debunk anyone, as I have enjoyed using ur own sources to debunk ur baseless lies and claims.

Jon Points  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 10:21 PM

Mr. Kubaczeski, the information you wrote is false and misleading. First, the rights of students to protest at public schools is protected by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript and https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/bill-of-rights-transcript) and the United States Supreme Court Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District; https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/393/503) . I suggest you read the Supreme Court's ruling before you make things up. Second, the AR-15 has been standard issue for American service members for decades (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/06/13/the-history-of-the-ar-15-the-weapon-that-had-a-hand-in-americas-worst-mass-shooting/?utm_term=.b67093e37b2d). Third, at least the police that protected these kids were not as thoughtless as some police who bring and shoot their guns in schools and injure a student (http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/03/14/california-teacher-accidentally-fires-gun-in-class-police-say-students-reportedly-injured.html). Lastly, I do not have the time to debunk your 365 background checks claim, but this article will explain the nuances of your hyperbolic claim (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-obama-gun-control-illinois-impact-met-20160105-9-story.html). I would surmise that you are upset because the kids are protesting your need to own whatever gun you want and you are worried that they will successful where adults have failed.

Kevin Kubaczeski from Brookfield  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 4:11 PM

The national school walkout for gun control that took place at many public schools across the country Wednesday likely violated the Constitution. That is because the government ?" in this case, public schools ?" made a special accommodation for a political viewpoint that it would not make for the opposing view, or for any other view. A long history of First Amendment jurisprudence establishes that such viewpoint discrimination is impermissible.

Kevin Kubaczeski from Brookfield  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 11:11 AM

Easy access? Ur delusional. All FFL sales require a background check. Every legal gun owner in IL has 365 background checks done a year. Weapon of war? Ur ignorance shines bright. Name one government that issues AR-15s to their military. Better yet, name one country that issues semi-auto rifles to their military. Shotguns are weapons of war, as they were originally called trench guns and designed for WWI, but I bet u have no problem with those weapons of war.

Ken Knasiak  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 8:59 AM

More to the point Mr. Kubaczeski, as we adults cannot and will not do anything about the both the mental health crisis coupled with the too easy access to weapons of war, they have decided to take action. Bravo!

Kevin Kubaczeski from Brookfield   

Posted: March 15th, 2018 7:52 AM

"'It's up to us,' to break the cycle of shootings, says RBHS student leader." Correct, considering the last shooter in Florida was a student.

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