Central Florida students walk out against school violence

By Jerry Hume, Greg Pallone, Sarah Panko, Team Coverage
Last Updated: Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 10:35 PM EDT

Thousands of students walked out of classrooms across Central Florida on Wednesday to honor the 17 lives lost at a South Florida high school one month ago.

  • Some school districts are helping with walkouts
  • Students did a walkout against gun violence, honor those who died

At 10 a.m., from Orange to Seminole to Lake to Brevard counties, students stood in circles, hugged and held up signs in support of the victims and to protest gun violence as part of a grass-roots "National Walkout Day."

Some school districts even helped students in the walkouts, encouraging them to go to a school's courtyard for a special ceremony.

Many students were are pushing for more gun control and school safety measures.

Students in Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties, who left class, were not be punished for leaving, as long as they did so peacefully.

Orange County

School administrators said every high school in Orange County planned some type of walkout event.

"It's a student-led effort through the student government associations at each of the schools. They've really come forward with what their plans are going to be, and what we wanted to do is just really create an environment which the students could express themselves (as long as) it was safe, it was orderly," Orange County Public Schools spokesman Scott Howat said.

In Osceola County, administrators say this will be the last walk out permitted this school year.

Seminole County

In the middle of what is usually fourth period, more than two thousand students left their teachers, backpacks and desks behind and walked out, a sign of solidarity and a push for change.

“I wanted to educate the students here that this could happen to us at any time. It could also happen anywhere," Wekiva High School senior class president Maddie Weldon said. "I don’t think a lot of the kids here take it seriously when we do fire drills or we do our lock downs.”

In the courtyard of the school sat 17 empty desks, each with a picture of the one of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High victims.

Devan Burton said one of his friends was at that school on Valentine's Day, when the massacre occurred. The friend escaped the shooting physically unharmed.

Burton said he's proud of his student body's actions.

"(We want) to actually show that we do care and we want the violence to stop," Burton said.

Students sang, recited a poem and were called to register to vote.

"I think we have to start from inside the school and work our way out. We have to make sure our whole student population is together on this, and from what you can see here, yes, we are together on this," Wekiva High senior Clayvon James said. "Now, it’s time for us to bring it out there and let the whole world know and let them hear, 'Look, it's time for us to stop this.”

Testing was going on before spring break and so the walk out may have impacted a student's decision about leaving class.

Flagler, Marion and Volusia county schools are on spring break this week.

The next big event to push for change in gun policies is a big protest in Washington, called March for Our Lives, that is set for Saturday, March 24.  

Brevard County

An estimated 900 students gathered on the Viera High School practice field to honor the victims of the south Florida shooting. 

Several student speakers addressed their fellow students, this as they called on local, state and national leaders to address gun control and mental health issues.

The peaceful protest lasted around 25 minutes.

Students said they were especially affected by the Parkland shooting, as the school is just a couple hour drive away.

The Viera area they call home mirrors that community now shattered by violence.

“This isn't a partisan issue, and the first step in this process would be to create the social change that we saw here today,” said Nivetha Aravind, Viera High School senior class president.

Lake County

At Umatilla High School, all 800 students were encouraged to attend a ceremony in the courtyard. 

Students read the names of all 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, read a poem, sang amazing grace, and held a moment of silence. 

Lake County officials say they wanted the events to be student planned and student led. 

"We're all going through the same problems even though we might not admit it to each other, we might speak about it,” said Crystal Casandra Harris, a senior. “I think it’s important to recognize that and say there's people here, we saw what happened and we want to make a change, a difference, and help improve the lives of everyone we see around us."

Umatilla High is also collecting donations to send to a support fund during their annual seniors versus teachers volleyball game Wednesday afternoon.