Update: This story was updated after publication, because Students Against School Shooting Iowa announced a change in the location of their protest.
Students at Linn-Mar High School will be participating in the National School Walkout on Friday, April 20. The nationwide event is being held on the anniversary of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
According to an analysis by The Washington Post published last month, there have been shootings at 192 elementary and secondary schools since Columbine. (The Post only counted shootings that occurred on school campuses during class hours.)
“We’re marching for common sense gun laws, and really just to come together as a school, to let our elected leaders know that we want to see change,” said Kevin Drahos, a junior at Linn-Mar High, who is one of the organizers of the school’s walkout.
Drahos also helped organize a walkout on Feb. 26 to protest the lack of political action in the wake of school shootings.
“We had more than 600 students show up,” Drahos said. “We gathered at the flagpole on campus, but this time we’re going further.”
Students will walk out of Linn-Mar at 10 a.m., and march to Marion Square Park. After a 30-minute rally, the students will return to class. Students at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon High School will also be staging walkouts, according to the National School Walkout site. Iowa City schools have a service day Friday and will not be holding class, but Students Against School Shootings Iowa, the group that took the lead in organizing the Iowa City March for Our Lives, will be meet at 10 a.m. on Friday at Van Allen Hall on the University of Iowa campus and then proceed to T. Anne Cleary Walkway, where they will stage a die-in.
Drahos said he and other student organizers had been working with school officials on the walkout.
“They don’t love the idea of us skipping class, but they are totally in support of our First Amendment rights and want to make sure we are able to voice our concerns and try to change the world, and be safe while we’re doing it,” Drahos explained.
“The district will neither promote, encourage nor prevent students from participating. The rights of all students will be respected whether they choose to participate or not. Students are aware that participation in the event will considered an unexcused absence,” Matthew May, communications/media director for the Linn-Mar School District said in an emailed statement. “Our priority is the safety and well-being of our students. The district has worked directly with the Marion Police Department to ensure the safety and supervision of Linn-Mar students during the event.”
The idea for the national walkout came from Lane Murdock, a high school sophomore in Connecticut. Murdock posted a petition on Change.org calling for walkouts on the anniversary of Columbine, after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Murdock told NPR she initially felt numb after she heard about the shooting, but then decided she had to take some action.
Drahos said he’s seen a similar change in his fellow students.
“Honestly, I was probably the most politically involved student at my school before Parkland. A lot kids had opinions, but weren’t interested in taking a political action,” he said. “Since Parkland, we’ve had our first ever school walkout. That was a big first step. Ever since, we’ve had a lot of political activity. There are lots of students at the school, and all around Cedar Rapids, asking how they can get involved.”
The students in the Cedar Rapids area who have been organizing protests since the Parkland shooting — staging, among other things, the Cedar Rapids March for Our Lives on March 24 — have been working together informally, Drahos said, but now they are talking about creating a group similar to Students Against School Shootings Iowa.