At least 1,500 Austin students walked out of classes Friday to demand stricter gun laws in the second day of local demonstrations this week after the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people.
Students in at least five middle schools and two high schools in Austin, with the largest gatherings at Bailey Middle School and Anderson High School, participated Friday in the student walkouts. The protests came two days after several other Austin-area schools joined in a national student walkout Wednesday.
About 300 kids, most no older than 14, chanted outside Bailey Middle School in South Austin at 10 a.m., calling out, “we can make a change” and “save our schools.”
Administrators attempted to keep students behind the school in a courtyard, but the students, some of whose parents said they were previously told the students could meet in the front by the flagpole, broke free and ran to the front of the school to protest. Administrators at first tried to stop them and yelled at several to go back but later allowed the students to continue their demonstration.
Across Texas, the demonstrations have met with varying degrees of resistance from school leaders, some of whom say they won’t condone political activity that disrupts the school day. Students from multiple school districts said on social media they were warned not to participate, and one Houston-area district threatened three-day suspensions for students who protested.
“Schools should be a safe place to learn, explore and have dreams,” said Ivory Smith, 14, an eighth-grader at Bailey. “After the first school shooting, that is when the foot should be down.”
Parent Jennifer Doherty said she was disappointed that students were not allowed out of the building and parents weren’t allowed to join them, since a letter to parents the day prior said they would allow students to participate.
“I was hoping that the kids could have their voices heard, because they have something to say that we all need to listen to,” she said. “I feel like the school could have done better in that regard. But this generation will get their voices heard one way or another. It is evident today that they are not going to let that stop them.”
At Gorzycki Middle School, where 200 students walked out, Principal Cathryn Mitchell said the students were organized and peaceful, and that she was “so proud to be their principal.” They gathered in front of a flagpole and read aloud the names of those who were killed by the gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week. They then observed 17 minutes of silence.
An additional 250 also rallied at O. Henry Middle School, and students at Fulmore and Covington middle schools also participated, but district officials did not have estimates for those gatherings. About 100 students walked out at Austin High School and about 400 walked out at Anderson High School, the largest local demonstration.
The students huddled in front of Anderson High, holding signs and chanting, “What do we need? Gun control! When do we need it? Now!”
A student on a bullhorn said she was scared to go to school because of gun violence.
“We want protection, and we want our education, but we can’t seem to get it safely,” Anderson ninth-grader Claire Lupul said. “We want a safe place that we can come to every day. And we want the country to stop having so many shootings. … We are all just here to get our education.”
On Wednesday, about 500 students across Central Texas held similar walkouts from the Austin, Leander and Georgetown districts. At Small Middle School in Southwest Austin, extra police were sent to the campus as nearly 300 students left class.
Larger demonstrations are planned in the coming weeks. On March 24, a protest called “March for Our Lives” is planned in Washington, D.C., to demand an end to gun violence and mass shootings. Students and parents in Austin said they plan to march to the state Capitol.
School district officials said all demonstrations this week have been peaceful.
“We honor their right to express their concern, grief, fear and anger over this emotional and terrorizing topic,” Austin school board President Kendall Pace said. “I hope these students will join en masse the national marches on March 24 so their voices will be heard.”