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.

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