About 30 La Cañada High School students joined their peers nationwide on Friday in staging a walkout from school in observance of the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School.
The group marched from LCHS starting at 10 a.m. Friday to Memorial Park, where congregants of La Cañada Congregational Church met them with sandwiches, snacks, refreshments and, perhaps most importantly, support. The walkout was a follow-up to nationwide observances at schools on March 14, a month after 17 students and adults were killed during a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I think most of us are in agreement that, since Feb. 14, that we have been empowered,” said LCHS senior Ethan Crane, who helped to lead the walkout. “It was incredible to see actual victims speaking out and wanting substantive change in policy after the horrific events in Parkland.
“We realized our voice matters,” he added. “It’s been decades since we’ve had anything going in the right direction for the gun violence discussion.”
LCHS did have to formally mark those students who left campus as truant for the day, which prohibits them from being able to make up missed work. Crane and others admitted this was likely a tough pill to swallow for a lot of students, and he said that 30 students showing up regardless spoke to the gravity of the gun violence debate.
“It shows that the people here have that courage,” Crane said. “I think people understate how much pressure there is in La Cañada. I think there is a status quo here to not get involved in political activism.”
La Cañada Unified School District Superintendent Wendy Sinnette was there with other school officials to observe the walkout, although she was careful to avoid weighing in on either side of the debate.
“Because we’re a public school, we can’t endorse, obviously, the actions, but I always personally want to give kids the meaningful opportunities to express themselves civically, keep them sage and protect the integrity of the instructional time at the high school,” she said.
The Rev. Kyle Sears, pastor of LCCC, said his church’s outreach for the walkout is a product of the church council deciding recently to become more involved in the safety of children and with the community in general. Being across the street from Memorial Park (“I figure with ‘Love Thy Neighbor,’ this is about as neighborly as you get,” Sears quipped), this was a no-brainer gesture for the congregants.
“Personally I think it’s important for students to know there are adults who support them and champion their voice,” Sears said. “I think that kind of presence matters a lot.”
Once at Memorial Park, students gathered in the pavilion and played music, gave speeches and had discussions regarding gun violence and how to potentially curb it. Gil Odgers, a senior who coordinates the group’s social media, said backlash to her fellow students participating has been minimal, and that many students were tuned into the livestream on the group’s Instagram @LCHSWalkout.
“There are a lot of people that were in the livestream chat saying they wish they could come,” she said. “If you had a test today, you just couldn’t come (because of the truancy rules against making up missed classroom work). We appreciate that, too, and appreciate their support even if they weren’t here.”
The group also had a laptop set up to register students to vote and to help contact elected representatives regarding gun control.
“I’m glad that this moment is happening right now, and I’m really, really hoping that this is the starting point to talking about a lot of other things that we need to talk about,” Odgers said. “I’m cautiously hopeful for change. We’re really trying to put a focus on political change. I’m hoping it allows us to talk more freely about things.”