School walkouts carry same message, different tones

March 14 demonstrations lasted for 17 minutes

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By Michael Romain and Nona Tepper

Staff Reporters

Students in Oak Park and River Forest joined their peers across the country in the National School Walkout, held March 14 at 10 a.m. The demonstrations were scheduled to last for 17-minutes to symbolize the 17 victims murdered at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14.

While the protests converged around the common theme of raising awareness of gun violence, they each differed in tone, focus and intensity.

Students at Oak Park and River Forest High School amplified a walkout they staged last month, with Wednesday's action much more of a community effort. A line of adults, for instance, formed an honor guard along Scoville Avenue as students streamed out of the main entrance and onto the streets.

Many area elementary school students were allowed to demonstrate inside of school buildings. Some parents of those young people recalled on Facebook their children's individual stances.

Holly Spurlock, president of the Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 Board of Education, wrote in her capacity as a D97 parent about her third-grader's decision to "stand in silent protest against gun violence at her school."

"We asked her to articulate why and she told us: 'I don't want any more guns and we need to tell Trump and other people that we want to be safe,'" Spurlock stated.

At Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School in Oak Park, at least 200 students rallied outside of the main entrance for roughly 17 minutes, many bearing signs ("Protect Lives Not Guns") and chanting ("Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go").

The students who organized the Brooks demonstration decided to zero in on Gov. Bruce Rauner's March 13 veto of a bill, sponsored by Oak Park state Sen. Don Harmon (38th), to require gun dealers to get licensed through the state.

"We wanted Bruce Rauner to sign SB 1567, which he vetoed yesterday, so he's clearly shown that he cares more about (National Rifle Association) money for funding his campaign than the lives of children in his own state," said Thaddeus Schultz, 13, who was one of the lead organizers of the Brooks demonstration.

"We want to pass on the message and convince state legislatures and people in Congress that this is not OK," said Jordan Lockett, 13. "We need change. This is unacceptable. Every day, somebody loses their lives."

Meanwhile, about 350 students at Roosevelt Middle School in River Forest marched the four-block school perimeter, carrying homemade signs that said, "I want to be safe in my school" and "#Enough." Mostly seventh and eighth graders attended the 17-minute march and about 20 parents joined the rally, beginning the protest with a moment of silence for the students and school administrators whose lives were lost in Parkland. Principal Larry Garstki said this is the first demonstration that's ever occurred at the school.

"It was by the students, for the students, and it went exceptionally well. It was a peaceful, respectful demonstration," said Dawne Simmons, spokeswoman for River Forest District 90 schools.

Reader Comments

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Ruth Lazarus from Oak Park  

Posted: March 17th, 2018 2:38 PM

I'm glad for our young people, for their enthusiasm, and for the support they received from our schools and community. There are many important lessons here, including our first amendment rights, tolerance for different views, and what to make of people who are reduced to calling folks "marxist and fascist" with no basis in reality. In general, I also would be cautious about saying anything about a specific child in a newspaper, but Mr. Kopper brought up his son here, so it doesn't seem fair to criticize the responses he got. Anyway, keep up the good work kids, most of us are with you despite what you might read here.

Hazel Miller  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 11:49 PM

That statement about Mr. Kopper"s son is purely hearsay. His son is not on trial, you madame are succumbing to gossip. Gossip is dangerous with no substaintial proof. I'm disgusted that another child called out a minor's name. How would another parent feel if their minor child where slandered like this?

Karen Brown Daily  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 9:41 PM

My point is not that kids/adults don't have a right to express their opinion. Of course they do. But I firmly believe, under the current circumstances that there should be a zero tolerance policy when suggesting a weapon of any kind should be brought to school. Would you joke about having a bomb on a plane? If your kid threatened suicide, would you brush it off? That is where we are folks. And I was speaking to Mr. Kopper's comment, which neglected to mention that his son had joked about bringing an AR-15 to school in the midst of a gun violence protest. I stand by my comment.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 9:12 PM

Ms. Daily: So my understanding - and correct me if I am wrong - is you think the First amendment only protects those whose speech you agree with. Speech you find disagreeable or offensive to your liberal sensibilities is not protected. The kids who joke about bringing AR15s to school, they should be suspended - I guess under the guise of a credible threat (which is arguably not protected speech). But when JB Russell's kid is threatened and told "she should be shot" because she expressed her support of the 2nd amendment, that threat is somehow not credible and is perfectly OK and to boot, is protected speech. Is that your position? If so you have a very skewed and distorted view of the First amendment. Perhaps I misunderstand your position. If so I stand corrected. And by the way, the Bill in question is SB 1657, not 1567 (which is a totally different bill). And if one bothers to read it or a summary (SB 1657), one would realize that this Bill actually exempts from the proposed new regulations, some of the largest Gun dealers in Illinois - Dick's, Wal-Mart, and Cabellas . The inconvenient fact is this Bill would more accurately be titled as the Favored Gun Vendor Act.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 9:04 PM

So all of these kids can tell you they want "gun control" but they are ignorant of the laws in existence and the woeful enforcement record of our government. Demonize the NRA without knowing what they do or what positive things they accomplish. It is almost criminal to send our children out in the streets to promote a political ideology whose premise is basically false. Again I will ask "WHY" people harm one another - solve that one and "HOW" will be immaterial. It has been reported that MS13's weapon of choice is a machete and it is horrendous the damage they can do. Eliminate one weapon and another becomes the new weapon of choice. Additional gun laws will only affect law abiding gun owners - the problem group don't care and the courts are almost as apathetic. "Operation Exile" is a federal/local cooperative program that throws all felony's with firearms into federal court where there is no plea bargains and mandatory sentences. It worked in Richmond VA with a 60% reduction of gun crimes. Obama/Holder cancelled the program because an inordinate percent of criminals convicted under the program were black.

Hazel Miller  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 7:56 PM

Karen if you were a child who didn't drink the angry liberal, marxist, fascist , alphabet gendered, genital hat wearing flavor aid that most of the children are drinking at Brooks you might feel the same way. Especially if you have the guts to speak your dissenting opinion.

Karen Brown Daily from Oak Park  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 3:41 PM

Yet again....the kids in the room are out-adulting the adults. And in my opinion, any kid who jokes around about bringing an AR-15 to school should be immediately suspended.

Ray Simpson  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 3:01 PM

@ Jim - did you try to claim Cherokee heritage? That seems to work for others.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 12:53 PM

Ah, but Jim, did you instead admit your white male cisgendered privilege, recognize the role that intersectionality plays especially as it relates to the LBGTQRSTUVWXYZ movement, divest yourself from any dealings with Israel, support encumbered mass emigration from Mexico, use taxpayer funds to provide abortions on demand, and give monetary reparations to those who are ten generations removed from slavery? If so, I'd think that RevComm, Linda Sarsour, ANSWER, Maxine Waters, the Democratic Socialists of America, Bernie Sanders, and Communist Party USA, all of whom participate enthusiastically in "Women's Marches" might (just might) cut you some slack on your unfamiliarity with all of Marx and Engels treaties. However, collectivist theory and dogma are fundamental to such groups/persons, so I wouldn't expect too much lenience there. ;)

Jim Peterson  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 11:17 AM

Alex, you are so right! I tried to participate in that so-called "Women's March", and I was not allowed to join. Before I could march I had to score 70% on their Das Kapital test, and some Emma Goldman type told me I failed, and I should go back to Oak Park and study.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 7:48 AM

To the OP middle school students commenting here... Thanks. I appreciate your input and I have no doubt that you are sincere. However, the concern that I and a few others here are expressing is that these protests seem to be the results of a larger social and political movement directed by some adults with ulterior motives. If the object of your protest is simply to call for tighter gun controls, I can actually get behind some of that. My support dissipates, though, when I hear that you may have been coached by some in the "Women's March" movement. I use the quotations there because that movement is really a loose association of Marxist groups , with some fairly fringe organizations at their vanguard, who have much more on their mind than simply the well-being of women, or stricter gun controls.

Marty Bracco  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 7:42 AM

For the record, over 400 Fenwick students rallied outside on Washington Blvd. in observance of National School Walkout Day. Two other groups of students stayed inside to either pray the rosary in the auditorium or write letters to their state representatives in the cafeteria. https://twitter.com/fenwickfriars/status/973987153213566990

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 15th, 2018 12:04 AM

OK Mike, well said. I agree. Two of my best friends are liberal progressives from the Big Apple no less. Seriously. And Ramona, English is my first and only language. I unfortunately do not have the gift of fluency in two languages as you obviously have. That said, I don't think the "misunderstood sarcastic " comment has anything to do with English being a second language. Trust me. Sarcasm and satire is very hard to pull off in the absence of visual clues. I've been embarrassed on multiple occasions when my sarcastic or satiric comment have been taken literally. One episode was particularly embarrassing. I wrote a highly satiric / sarcastic letter related to California health care which was published in the Wall Street Journal. Yet when it was published the commentators to the letter obviously took the satiric points I made literally and therefore my point was totally missed. More than that, the literal meaning of the letter made me look like a total fool as well! I was very embarrassed. Hey, we can't all be Jonathon Swift.

Rani Morrison from Oak Park  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 10:56 PM

I would just like to applaud the Brooks Middle School students who have commented. Their comments have been respectful, appropriate, and well thought out. Whatever leanings one may have regarding the protests and walk outs; we have fantastic children and youth in Oak Park that are watching US adults.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 9:51 PM

Mr Hanline....Yes, we have had civil discourse in the past and as you, I am ok with that. There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing and discussing the issues. In fact, I find it to be a learning process and consider it essential for ones intellectual growth to spend time with people who have different perspectives and thoughts. I would rather live in a community like Oak Park where the residents are engaged and active than a community where everyone is the same and nobody cares. Lastly, English is my 2nd languages, so I apologize if I didn't recognize the sarcasm. I suppose I jumped the gun when my fellow latino is criticized. Looking forward to future discussions.

Mariana Pedraza  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 9:41 PM

Before I start, I would really love to thank the administration for allowing the students of Oak Park to let our voices be heard. Today we have experienced a strong, empowering rally planned by none other than the Womens March profit organization. I am currently a seventh grade student at Gwendolyn Brooks who was involved in organizing our rally today. From my point of view, this is one of the very first times I have witnessed the majority of my peers actually agreeing with eachother on one statement. That statement is that no fear belongs in any school. Our mission was to spread awareness to other students and I truly believe we accomplished that. I am sure that all parents can agree there will always be some sort of debate when a political theme approaches. Personally, I am very disappointed to see the reactions of these parents on an article that was supposed to be celebrating the children. These are your own kids you have raised. If I was an Oak Park mother, I would be anything except negative of the fact that my child is speaking their voice. However, as I brought up earlier there will always be a debate. The other side of this controversy with gun law was definitely an optional minority. What I mean by that is that it was completely every student's right to decide to attend the rally. So for these parents to argue that a child has other sides, I would love to ask why your child attended. Even furthermore, our organization team has several reports about certain students such as Max Kopper being one off these selected students. Our team has been told this certain student was disrespecting our request of silence during the first seven minutes with school shooting related jokes. Either he did not understand the point of the well described event or we need to work better on educating our students on these topics. Moral of the story is to truly listen to your children.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 9:37 PM

Sully....First of all I NEVER called you childish or dumb, so please stop with the misrepresentations. I did walk in protest today in Englewood. Are you willing to come down to 63rd Street with me and protest? Sorry you weren't there to see me. I'll make sure to document it and send it to you. If you read the first post from Mr. Kopper, then you would understand the context of mine.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 9:30 PM

Mr. Hanline, Sorry to disappoint you, but I got married at Ascension and have lived on the southeast side of Oak Park for the last 22 years. No worries though, since my property taxes are now about 12% of my annual gross income, I will be selling and leaving. When I put my house on the market, you will be the first one to know.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 9:20 PM

No, Bruce, I don't care to silence anyone. I personally enjoy spirited debate and hope to be challenged, as none of my beliefs are carved in stone. I've literally gotten into shouting matches with conservative friends in bars over politics (not recommended for obvious reasons), and 5 minutes later we're asking whose round is it? We can certainly agree to disagree?"I have yet to lose a friend or acquaintance over politics. But my feathers do get ruffled when conservatives point their fingers at liberal activism as the problem itself, and not the actual issues which said activism is trying to address. Even more so when outsiders specifically attack Oak Park progressivism (which, like it or not, is part of our fabric) in an Oak Park forum?"my civic pride tends to kick in. Ramona and I have engaged in heated, yet largely respectful, debate over political disagreements several times during the past year. She considers her arguments carefully, even if we don't usually see eye to eye. Today she decided to launch ad hominem attacks instead, so the gloves came off. I won't lose any sleep over it, nor will I carry a grudge against her, and am happy to continue debating the issues with her (or you, whom I often find myself in disagreement with as well, but respect nevertheless for your critical thinking skills) moving forward as we have in the past.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 7:32 PM

So Mike are you implying that those like Ramona and Alex who supposedly don't live here in Oak Park should refrain from commenting about Oak Park? OK, fair enough. Does that apply as well to Mr. Haley a Berwyn resident? Perhaps he should cease his commentary as well (which I personally find ludicrous and constantly annoying). And then of course there is Ms. Knott-Dawson, a resident of a "near western suburb" who is given free rein by the WJ to rant and rave about Oak Park. Perhaps she should be silenced as well. Or is it just the non resident conservatives who need to be silenced?

Jacek Lazarczyk  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 6:41 PM

The middle schoolers learn how to debate from us, their parents. So many debates on facebook or in the comments sections turn out so much worse and not necessarily more eloquent. For practical purposes, I would not recommend to try to debate an emotionally charged demonstrating group. This is a good opportunity to show restraint and keep your First Amendment protected opinions to yourself.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 6:38 PM

Also, I'm probably just wasting my breath on the "grownups" in the room such as yourself, Ramona, but escalating violence in Oak Park, gangbanging, and the drug trade all count the ready availability of guns as their common denominator?"every gun in the hands of a criminal was legally purchased at one point in time. Perhaps if the conservative commenters on here who don't even reside in Oak Park, yourself and Alex included, would stop trying to paint Oak Park progressivism as the problem and not the potential solution, we wouldn't have to engage in these petty little squabbles.

Knox Lingenfelter  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 6:23 PM

Maybe someone who actually goes to brooks should share. I helped organize the rally. It was not mandatory, as Mr. Kopper assumed. As for the politics in the schools in Oak Park, the majority is overwhelmingly liberal or democratic. I don't control the students at my school and what they say or do, but the rally had good intentions. We, the organizers, only originally meant for those who made posters or signed up to participate, yet nearly half of the school walked out. The end result was something that was not respectful and overly rude. There were a group of students who came to our rally who were saying that they should be allowed to carry AR-15 assault rifles to protect themselves(Including Max Kopper, Mr. Kopper's son) I thought it was rude and disrespectful to be talking about owning guns at a gun control protest.The parents bickering in this chat about multiple issues are acting worse than some of my fellow peers. I know, having helped organize the event, that the original intention was not to oppress the minority, but to speak out and help provoke the making of legislation to protect students in OUR schools. If you don't support that, that is OK. Tell your kids not to peacefully protest for their rights. But at the end of the day, that is their decision. During our next rally scheduled for April 20th, we will do a better job to keep respect a priority and disruption at a minimum. I hope that an insider's perspective who actually knows what is going on behind the preparation of these rallies may help evolve your understanding of these issues.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 6:17 PM

Perhaps if you honed your own spidey senses, Ramona, you might be able to detect sarcasm.

Sully Williams  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 5:56 PM

Mrs Lopez, The students at brooks have access to this site and I believe I speak for the rest of us at brooks, we are not dumb or childish. I don't see you protesting for our safety. You are calling us dumb, for wanting to be safer. Adults aren't doing anything so we are. Do not call us dumb unless you're doing anything to help. That's extremely ignorant and rude.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 5:44 PM

Mr Hanline, Yes, the Austin neighborhood has a violence and gang problem and with its proximity to Oak Park, their problem becomes OUR problem. Hence the car jackings and other crime that has become borderline rampant in the past 18 months. You must have some spidey senses or a profiler for the FBI, because Mr. Garcia didn't state or even imply that we need to build a wall between Oak Park and Chicago. Are you trying to incite people Mr. Hamline. Please stop acting like the kids at Brooks and grow up.

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 5:27 PM

My daughter had a similar experience at the first Julian walkout. She expected reverence at that 'remembrance', instead of a screech-fest. She was informed that, because she wants safe schools and the second amendment protected, she should be shot. The tolerance for dissenting opinions in our schools mirrors what is observed amongst the adults in our community. Both of my students (along with apparently 2/3 of Julian students) sat this one out. Why? They are children, without the wisdom, experience or power necessary to engage in the ageless difficulty of balancing citizen security and freedom. Now is the time to teach critical thinking skills to approach these complex issues. Not pretend they are simple and will be solved by screaming at one another.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 5:20 PM

@Alex Does Oak Park have a violent crime and gang-banger problem, or does neighboring Chicago? What would you suggest--building a wall on the Austin border to keep the ne'er-do-wells out?

Alex Garcia  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 5:15 PM

Yet, these precocious child protesters and the parents/teachers/activists egging them on are complete silent on existential threats that are actually nearer to them, such as Oak Park's escalating violent crime rates, gangbanging, drug use, etc.

Hazel Miller  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 5:00 PM

Mr. Kopper, that is a shame that your son had to deal with that. My child who went to Brooks informed me of the lunchtime chants of" Kill Trump, Free El Chapo", so I'm really not surprised this happened. Great social engineering going on there at Brooks

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 4:49 PM

This would be a good time to educate the youth on the right to assemble in a peaceful manner. Also, would be a great time to discuss the 2nd amendment, why it was adopted and actually have some dialogue and discussion instead of a one sided politically charged event. Unfortunately, it seems the kids who ganged up on Mr. Koppers son took a page out of Antifa's playbook.

Bill Kopper  

Posted: March 14th, 2018 4:11 PM

Unfortunately, the demonstration at Brooks quickly turned into a gang up when my son questioned the "NRA worse than KKK sign." He was told repeatedly to shut the F*** up and called a C*** by fellow middle schoolers. This shows why we should keep the kids in school and let them protest on their own time. Disappointed that the administration allows one sided political events like this to go on without regard to those who may not share all the views of the majority.

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