Thousands of high school students across the Tampa Bay area walked out of their classes at noon Wednesday in support of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County. During the simultaneous demonstrations, organized over social media, students gathered in hallways and campus plazas for 17 minutes of silence, one minute for each of the people killed in last week's shooting at Douglas.
Many of the demonstrations were visible on Snapchat and involved a number of high schools. Large numbers of students could be seen gathering outside at Pinellas Park, Dunedin, Lakewood, East Lake, Land O'Lakes, Hillsborough, Spoto and Wesley Chapel high schools, among others.
Nana Kusi, a Land O'Lakes High senior, joined about 60 classmates outside her school at noon Wednesday. They gathered around the flagpole for 17 minutes.
"I decided to participate because it was a small way for us to civically engage," said Kusi, the school's debate club president, who is organizing another walkout for March 14 in conjunction with a national effort. "I really feel like I can't tolerate the fact that it's very plausible I can walk into school and not see my parents again because our lawmakers are in the pocket of the NRA."
She said the recent shooting hit home more closely than others, as she has remote connections to it. A friend who is going to UCF in the fall has a roommate who attends Stoneman Douglas, for instance.
More than that, Kusi said, the shooting survivors inspired her.
"This is an opportunity for individuals my age to show we are here, we're present and we care about these things," Kusi said.
At Lakewood High in St. Petersburg, sophomore Jade Marks spoke to fellow students during the walkout.
"What has silence done thus far? The only ones who should be silent are the dead," he said.
School officials apparently got word of the event late in the morning. Shortly before the demonstration, Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego gave the following guidance to principals: "In the event that students choose to walk out into the hallway at your school, please work with your school team to direct and remain with students so that supervision is in place. If standing in the hallway will not work for your school, please designate a safe and secure walk out area (courtyard, café, gymnasium, auditorium or other area)."
He also asked them to make this announcement when the demonstration is over: "Students, thank you for your peaceful expression in support of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I will be meeting with your student council representatives to discuss other ways our school community can come together during this difficult time in our state and nation. Thank you for your attention and let's now focus on finishing the school day."
Officials said another message will be shared with parents later.
This report includes information from Dallas Davis of the Spartan News Network at Lakewood High and Times Staff Writer Jeffrey S. Solochek.