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Douglas County students leave class to advocate for school safety

Walkout lasts 17 minutes for 17 victims of Florida school shooting


In front of the main entrance to Highlands Ranch High School stood about 100 students. Some held up large posters with writing, others chanted, “We want change and we want it now,” and, “Show me what democracy looks like.”

Some students delivered speeches, pleading for action, before declaring a moment of silence for the people killed in the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

"We want something — something is better than nothing," said Trenten Peacock, a member of the school's left-leaning group called Falcons for Progress, who helped organize the March 14 walkout. "We can't keep having this repetitive cycle of death with nothing being done."

The high school, at 9375 Cresthill Lane, was one of at least 10 schools in Douglas County and thousands of schools across the country that had students participate in the event, called “#Enough National School Walkout.” Douglas County students organized the walkout, which was not sanctioned or organized by the Douglas County School District, through word of mouth and social media.

“It's about the innocent young lives that are lost constantly and the lack of change that occurs,” said Emily Conway, a senior at Highlands Ranch High.

MORE: Students across Jeffco participate in walkout

At 10 a.m., students left class for 17 minutes to honor the 17 victims of the Florida shooting and protest for Congress to take action on gun violence. Patrol cars and school resource officers from the Douglas County Sheriff's Office closely monitored the participating schools.

In clusters of small groups, students at Castle View High School in Castle Rock emerged from in-between campus buildings and gathered on a grassy area in front of the school. Many held signs urging gun control.

At first chants of, “This is what democracy looks like,” broke out. A series of student speakers filled the next 17 minutes, often garnering the cheers and applause of their peers.

Even from a few hundred feet away, sound bites of their impassioned speeches rang out.

“We are not a minority,” one boy said.

“We are the generation of tomorrow,” a girl later added.

Nia Dudgeon, a senior at Legend High School in Parker, joined dozens of other students in the walkout to show her support for students killed in school shootings and raise awareness for gun control. Two years ago, she moved here with her family from Australia, where gun control laws were tightened after a mass shooting in 1996.

“Yes, I'm afraid,” Dudgeon, 17, said. “It happens in the places you think it won't. For me, people's right to education is more important than guns.”

She said she would like to see national leaders try a strategy that she saw work in Australia, when the government banned certain types of weapons and offered a buy-back program for gun owners.

“Our leaders need to not be afraid to try what other places have done, that end up working,” she said.

Not all students were protesting for the same cause.

Among the crowd at Highlands Ranch High, a group of less than 10 students carried signs that said, “Do not tread on me,” signifying their opposition to gun control. They chanted during what was meant to be a moment of silence for the 17 victims of the school shooting.

“We wanted to be as inclusive as possible when it came to political differences,” said Peacock. “I wasn't expecting so much disrespect.”

Noah Pasley, a senior at Highlands Ranch High, wants to support school safety but doesn't want to limit the rights of Americans, he said. He would like to see stronger school security and more focus on mental health.

“I feel like not enough attention has been on the actual people behind the shootings and taking care of the victims,” said Pasley, who had a free period during the walkout but rode his bike from home to join his classmates. “The people in Parkland aren't going to be the same.”

Peacock said his main concern is protecting people.

“I want them gone,” Peacock said of assault rifles. “Ban the guns that are meant to kill.”


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