Students organize regional walkouts

Parkland was the last straw; school students nationwide and locally are walking out of school today to send a message to Congress that something needs to change.

While school officials prefer students to stay inside, they won’t stand in students’ way as they conduct walkouts at 10 a.m. today in unison with students across the nation to honor the 17 victims killed in the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., school shooting and to spur Congress to make a move toward stricter gun regulations.

Hollidaysburg Area senior Rohan Gupta, 18, is coordinating a walkout at Hollidaysburg Area with fellow classmates Casey Ottaway, Cameron O’Connor and Alex Kaplan.

“This is a demonstration of national unity. It’s beautiful in that we are all doing this across the nation. It’s a beautiful thing for America and a good sign for our generation,” Gupta said. He lamented the numerous school shootings in recent U.S. history and now Parkland.

“We want to pay our respects to the victims in Parkland. The walkout will be 17 minutes, a minute for each victim. The goal is to press legislators to take action to address school shootings through stricter gun regulations and security measures,” he said.

Gupta said that he and his classmates coordinated with 55 people through an iPhone message group. More said they would join, he said.

Gupta said he has spoken to the school administration about the walkout.

“They want us to stay inside. They are only officially allowing students to walk out to the auditorium, but in recognition that students will go outside anyway, they won’t discipline students if they are back inside at 10:17 a.m.”

The same policy has been implemented at other schools.

Altoona Area School District Community Relations Director Paula Foreman said the reason for trying to keep students inside is safety.

“We want to support what kids want to do. But it raises a concern for safety,” she said.

As an alternative to walking out, teachers will be showing a video on school safety by the district’s broadcasting students as well as holding classroom discussions on the topic from

10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m.

“If kids walk out, there will be no punishment as long as they return after 17 minutes,” Foreman said. “If they choose not to come back, they will be disciplined in accordance with the student handbook.”

Joseph Gagermeier, a junior at Central Cambria High School, and fellow classmate Rhys Long, are organizing a walkout, too.

“We will be holding posters for other schools who have been the victim of gun violence and signs asking for safer schools and government change. This matter needs as much attention so that change can be possible. This is a peaceful protest in the hopes to invoke change,” Gagermeier wrote in an email.

Central Cambria Super-intendent Jason Moore said the district is not endorsing the walkout but will give students the ability to do it.

“We are not supporting or endorsing, but we will give them the opportunity to express themselves. We prefer them to stay in a safe area in the building. But we won’t restrain them from leaving the building,” Moore said.

“We have kids all over the political spectrum who are participating. For a lot of them, it’s not a gun thing. Most are in support of school safety — more resource officers, metal detectors and things like that. … Hopefully the state will be proactive as far as funding for that goes. If that would be expanded, the board would consider adding more officers. The state grant we received for our current officer is $40,000.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.