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Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Around 100 Hillsborough High School students walked out of their classes on Friday morning in protest demanding gun law reform.
Around 100 Hillsborough High School students walked out of their classes on Friday morning in protest demanding gun law reform.
Published Apr. 20, 2018

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways.

In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall for speeches, a conversation with Mayor Rick Kriseman and voter registration for those 16 and over.

"Voting allows us to back up what we believe in," said organizer Kai Tomalin, 17.

"We can't all lead a revolution," he said. "Every American will have the ability to vote if they take the steps necessary. Their voices, our voices, will immediately be able to be part of that conversation."

RELATED: After Parkland, these students became activists. Will their movement last?

In Hillsborough, National School Walkout Day will be observed in a handful of schools for 30 minutes or so in the football stadium or around the flagpole. Principals were asked to meet with their student leaders and take care to keep them safe and not disrupt instruction.

At Plant High, a hotbed of recent activism, a message went out to parents that students will be directed to the football stadium if they wish to take part in Friday's event. There would be no microphones and no voter registration.

"It just makes me crazy," said Plant parent Nell Abram. "We need to see democracy in this country not repressed, but celebrated."

National Walkout Day was the brainchild of students in Connecticut led by high school sophomore Lane Murdock.

"It is not conservative or liberal," Murdock said in an interview with National Public Radio.

"It is just about making sure our children don't get harmed in school and we don't live in a community and in a country that has institutionalized fear. I think we're all sick of it. That's why we're doing this."

The event follows a string of coordinated protests in the aftermath of the Feb. 14 killings of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Walkouts marking the one-month anniversary of the Parkland massacre were staged on March 14. Ten days later, on a Saturday, students staged March For Our Lives rallies around the globe, including one in Tampa that attracted some 13,000 participants.

Friday's walkouts promote much the same agenda — a national conversation on gun reform that rejects the dominance of the National Rifle Association lobby group.

In Hillsborough County, high schools where students have announced walkouts include Hillsborough, Blake, Steinbrenner and Robinson. Some will happen at 10 a.m. to coincide with the national movements. Others are planned for the end of the school day, including a march from Blake to Waterworks Park. At Riverview High, a rally is planned at 7 a.m.

"We'll be writing letters to Congress at lunch, and that might be the most we can do," said Macy McClintock, a junior at Robinson. A voter registration drive is planned at Robinson on Monday, she said.

The Tampa Bay Times asked permission from the school district to attend one of the events and was allowed only to one school: Lennard High, in Ruskin. There, instead of walking out, students have planned a "Good Citizenship Day," said district spokeswoman Tanya Arja.

They will view a student-produced video called "Spread the Love" at 10 a.m. During their lunch periods, they can walk the track around the football field in memory of the victims of school shootings, and in support of kindness at school.

The Lennard event will include a voter drive, and the students will be encouraged to get involved in community causes.

Responding to complaints about Plant High's actions, Arja said that the school's principal, Johnny Bush, has been supportive of student activists in the past two months. Now, however, there is the need to be mindful of testing, which must be kept on schedule to comply with state law.

"Principal Bush has supported their ability to have their voices heard," Arja said. "He is providing a space, but he also has to balance that with safety and learning."

ALSO READ: Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Given such limitations, students at some schools decided not to walk out at all.

In St. Petersburg, the decision was whether to commit to the trip to City Hall.

Tomalin, son of the late Times outdoors editor Terry Tomalin and Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, said he and his friends got permission from administrators at Canterbury School of Florida.

So did Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington, both 17, from St. Petersburg High School — as long as their parents gave consent.

Redington was 12 when 20 students and six adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. in 2012.

"After Parkland, I've felt so much more empowered than I've ever felt before," she said.

"A lot of people think, 'Oh, kids,' you know? ... The Internet is our main tool. We have the power to know absolutely as much as anyone else."

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or msokol@tampabay.com. Follow @marlenesokol.

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