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Students Expected to Descend on Santa Monica City Hall to Protest National School Violence
By Niki Cervantes
April 19, 2018 -- Marking the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school killings, hundreds of students and others are expected at the steps of Santa Monica City Hall on Friday as part of a national school walkout to protest school gun violence.
Unlike a similar demonstration last month, Friday's protest -- organized by local student activists as part of the broader National School Walkout -- is not sanctioned by Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials ("Santa Monica-Malibu Public School Leaders Give Blessing to Student Walkouts," February 26, 2018).
Thousands of local students took part in the first walkout staged one month after the February 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School ("Santa Monica-Malibu Students Hold Demonstrations in Wake of Florida School Shootings," March 15, 2018).
“Together, we will send a message that we won’t tolerate any more inaction on this issue,” the L.A. Student Activist Coalition said in a statement on the protest in Santa Monica, which is to include students from Santa Monica High School and seven other area high schools.
“If cowardly politicians fail to act, young people will show them the consequences of letting so many Americans die by voting them out in November,” the organization said.
The walkout at Santa Monica High School is planned to start at about 10 a.m. at the campus’s Olympic Street gate, with participants ending at City Hall, said Oscar de la Torre, a member of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education.
Unlike the first protest in March, the district is not allowing students to leave school without being marked absent, District officials said.
"While we will honor and respect student rights for freedom of speech and civil disobedience, the district schools will not deviate from the normal activities planned for the day," District Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati wrote in a statement issued Thursday morning.
"The district does not take positions on political issues. As such SMMUSD schools are not sanctioning, coordinating or facilitating any activities for April 20th," Drati wrote.
"Any student who is missing from class will be marked as an unexcused cut for the missing time."
School Board member Oscar de la Torre said he supports the participants “for sending a message” about gun violence and their belief that gun control is needed to slow the ongoing shootings on campuses and elsewhere.
“These students are serious, responsible and dedicated,” said De La Torre, who also plans to attend in his role as the head of the Pico Youth and Family Center.
“They understand they will be marked absent” if they miss class to take part in the walkout/protest.
“They know there will be consequences,” he said.
The 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, left 12 students and one teacher dead, making it the deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. high school until the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.
At Friday’s protest, participants will observe 13 seconds of silence in remembrance of the Columbine dead.
Maddie Fenster, one of the organizers of the Friday rally at City Hall, said students who have committed to join are from Santa Monica High School, Crossroads, University High School, Beverly, Venice, The Archer School for Girls and others.
She said the rally was “coordinated and planned entirely by students,” and that the L.A. Student Activist Coalition (LASAC) “has been working for weeks to plan several speakers, events, and activism opportunities for students to speak out against gun violence.”
On site will be voter pre-registration, food trucks, performers, speakers, a D.J. and a photo booth.
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