PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — Thousands of students across the Delaware Valley took part in Wednesday’s National Walkout Day to protest gun violence following last month’s massacre at a Florida high school.
In Philadelphia, thousands of students left from the Philadelphia School District headquarters and marched to City Hall to make their voices heard about gun violence.
“Because of all the students actually coming together for something, I feel as though more people will listen,” said student Debrea Blount.
“I have family in Florida, so that could’ve been any of my family members,” said student Nadir Jones. “I think that Philadelphia supporting Florida is a good step in making a change.”
Up to 1,000 students at Central High School in Olney walked out.
“It’s so important to be part of this. I mean, our peers are dying and I’m scared for my life, I’m scared for my friends’ lives, and I think we all need to take a stand about this,” said Sarah Row.
Principal Timothy McKenna said he was proud of the high school students for taking part in this event.
“This is the first time I’ve had any event like this in any of the schools I’ve led. I’m very proud of the students. They designed this program. I stood in the back and it was very powerful,” said McKenna.
Central High students recited chants from a South African rally cry used in resistance during apartheid and also shared poetry.
Students at Garnet Valley High School in Glen Mills, Delaware County showed their support by displaying 232 backpacks in a heart shape on the football field.
Each backpack is labeled with the name of a victim who has lost their life since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
At Lower Merion High School, several hundred students stepped out the door, armed with banners, signs and their voices.
The walkout lasted about 45 minutes as and featured speeches as students called on their classmates to get involved.
Dozens of students said they are tired of just “thoughts and prayers.”
“If I feel as passionately about this issue, I have to speak up, I can’t sit there and let other people do the work for me. It’s time for me to use my voice,” said freshman Ava Clifford.
“My sense is this represents the overwhelming amount of study body, and there are a number of students who disagree with them,” said Lower Merion School District Superintendent Robert Copeland.
About a dozen students held a counter-protest, defending the Second Amendment. None of those students commented after their walkout.
The same scene is playing out in South Jersey, where Camden Academy Charter students began their walkout at 10 a.m.
“We get to go to school each day, and we get our education, but for 17 students it was a regular day until someone decided to do something that was not right, and now they’re not here today,” said student Christalys Santiago.
The students marched around the school for 17 minutes and released 17 balloons — one for each student killed in Parkland one month ago. Members of the charter school’s student government organized the march. Principal Dara Ash says even though the walkout interrupted about a half-hour of classroom time, the life lessons are worth it.
“A lot of them were very touched by what happened in Florida, so we wanted to be able to give them an opportunity to express themselves in a safe environment,” said Ash.
Carrying signs that read “We Stand Together” and “Unite 4 Parkland,” hundreds of students streamed out of Cherry Hill High School West, and circled the track around the football field for 17 minutes, on the one-month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 dead. Junior Wesley Savage says the demonstration has a dual message.
“I feel it’s important not only to get better protection in our schools, but I feel it’s important to remember the 17 people who lost their lives,” said Wesley.
Sophomore Sonya Solomon hopes the students’ voices are heard beyond South Jersey.
“I believe that gun safety is a big issue in this country and I want to take a stand in it,” she said.
A walkout across town last month at Cherry Hill East led to the district announcing that armed officers would be deployed in schools here.
More than 3,000 walkouts were planned across the U.S. and around the world, organizers said. Students were urged to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim in the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Students from elementary school to college planned to take up the call in a variety of ways. Some were expected to hold roadside rallies to honor shooting victims and protest violence. Others planned demonstrations in school gyms or on football fields. In Massachusetts and Ohio, students said they would head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun laws.
Some schools applauded students for taking a stand or at least tolerated the walkouts, while others threatened discipline.
The coordinated walkout was organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, which brought thousands to Washington last year.
Although the group wanted students to shape protests on their own, it also offered them a list of demands for lawmakers, including a ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.
“Our elected officials must do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to this violence,” the organization said on its website.
Other protests planned in coming weeks include the March for Our Lives rally for school safety, which organizers say is expected to draw hundreds of thousands to the nation’s capital on March 24. Another round of school walkouts is planned for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High shooting in Colorado.
Some students in Massachusetts said that after Wednesday’s protest, they planned to rally outside the Springfield headquarters of the gun maker Smith & Wesson.
At Case Elementary School in Akron, Ohio, a group of fifth-graders were organizing a walkout with the help of teachers after seeing parallels in a video they watched about youth marches for civil rights in 1963. Case instructors said 150 or more students were expected to line the sidewalk, carrying posters with the names of Parkland victims.
The walkouts drew support from companies including media conglomerate Viacom, which planned to pause programming on MTV, BET and all its other networks for 17 minutes during the walkouts.
Districts in Sayreville, New Jersey, and Maryland’s Harford County drew criticism this week when they said students could face punishment for leaving class.
In suburban Atlanta, one of Georgia’s largest school systems announced that students who participated might face unspecified consequences.
But some vowed to walk out anyway.
“Change never happens without backlash,” said Kara Litwin, a senior at Pope High School in the Cobb County School District.
The possibility of being suspended “is overwhelming, and I understand that it’s scary for a lot of students,” said Lian Kleinman, a junior at Pope High. “For me personally, this is something I believe in. This is something I will go to the ends of the Earth for.”
Other schools sought a middle ground, offering “teach-ins” or group discussions on gun violence.
Meanwhile, free speech advocates geared up for a battle. The American Civil Liberties Union issued advice for students who walk out, saying schools can’t legally punish them more harshly because of the political nature of their message. In Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, some lawyers said they would provide free legal help to students who are punished.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)