ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Students marched from their schools to the Capitol in St. Paul Wednesday morning, demanding safer schools and tighter gun laws.
Police say more than 2,000 students marched, and an estimated 5,000 people gathered at the Capitol. St. Paul Public Schools estimates that at least 700 SPPS students participated, coming from Central, Humboldt, Creative Arts, Open World Learning, Highland Senior High, Highland Middle School and many more.
During the walkout, St. Paul police provided a safe escort, as several intersections where shut down and roads were blocked.
“We need laws to change; thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. I think this is the way I can make my voice heard because I can’t vote, but this is the way I can still speak my mind,” said St. Paul Academy freshman Evelyn Lillemoe.
Fellow freshman Gabriella Thompson added, “education is the most important thing in our lives right now. If we can’t be safe while we are learning, then what’s the point?”
Cretin-Derham Hall reported they had about 600 students participating Wednesday, more than half of the student body.
“We don’t want to get killed by guns in school. Schools are supposed to be a safe place where you learn, not where you die,” Cretin-Derham Hall sophomore Joe Leroux said.
“I feel like our voices matter a lot," added Beth Tsehay with Open World Learning Community. "We have a unique voice that’s different from teachers and different from adults. We’re the future, so I feel like we should say what we want and they should listen."
Several lawmakers also attended, including DFL representatives Dave Pinto and Peggy Flanagan, and said they heard the message loud and clear.
“I am just thrilled,” Rep. Flanagan said. “My heart is just bursting for the energy and passion of these young people. They are going to be the generation that forces us to get it done. I think we’re ready and just waiting for them.”
Statement from Cretin-Derham Hall:
"The issue of school safety is one of critical, national importance, as we were so tragically reminded on February 14, 2018, in Florida and we pray for the victims, the families and the communities so horrifically touched by gun violence at schools.
This issue is resonating deeply for many of our students and staff and has called us, as individuals and as a community, to consider how we respond.
While our community, like the country, is diverse in our personal views about solutions to ensure school safety, there seems to be impressive solidarity in furthering the conversation so that constructive progress can be made to ensure our schools are as safe as possible.
Leading this conversation at Cretin-Derham Hall are the young people, as they are across the nation. We support and applaud our students who want to use their voice to seek and advocate for policies that protect all students from gun violence.
The student walkout effort today was student-driven and student-organized. Cretin-Derham Hall was not involved in the planning of this event. However, we do support the students’ right to protest and want to share our response to this event.
Classes at CDH were in session as normal. Teachers took attendance at the beginning of all periods following the planned walkout. Any student missing will be counted absent for those periods. Students will not be penalized academically but will be responsible for missed work.
Parents will be notified that their child is absent.
With parental support for the student’s participation in the walkout, this will be considered an excused absence.
If parents do not support their student leaving campus for the walkout, this will be considered an unexcused absence, which will result in a Saturday detention.
We encouraged all families to discuss this walkout with their student and create a family plan about the student’s participation, or non-participation, in the walkout."
Statement from St. Paul Public Schools:
"Saint Paul Public Schools became aware of this student-organized and student-driven event last week. We provided information about the walkout to families and staff. SPPS did not sanction the event and we provided guidance regarding our attendance policy. SPPS respects students' first amendment rights and within our schools we strive to provide students a safe and supportive place to express their opinions. And to talk through their feelings without fear of judgment."
IN THE LEGISLATURE
Wednesday morning, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled his proposal to provide $15.9 million to enhance safety in schools throughout the state. The Safe and Secure Schools Act would use the surplus to boost school funding by $18 a student – totaling $15.9 million in 2019. The revenue would be used for school safety improvements and the identification and support of students that may be a danger to themselves or others. The proposal also includes an additional $5 million for school-based grants that would provide mental health services to students who need added support.
The governor's proposal comes out of a national conversation about school safety and gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The massacre sparked copycat threats in schools across the country. At least 21 threats have been made against Minnesota schools in the last three weeks, according to Dayton’s office.
The governor is not proposing any gun control legislation in his school safety package, saying there is no appetite for them in the Legislature.
Last week, the House Public Safety Committee tabled two bills – one that would require a criminal background check for firearm transfers and another that would enable law enforcement and family members to petition a court to prohibit people from possessing firearms if they pose a significant danger to themselves or others.
Last month, Minneapolis students walked out and marched to City Hall to demand gun control legislation. Days later, the Minneapolis City Council officially adopted a resolution to renew the city's commitment to end gun violence.