Nearly 2,000 Petaluma students from at least a dozen schools walked out of their classrooms Wednesday as part of a nationwide protest to promote school safety and condemn gun violence.
All walkouts were peaceful, and early estimates showed that about 1,970 students participated in the 10 a.m. action, campus administrators said. Students from Casa Grande, St. Vincent de Paul, Sonoma Mountain, San Antonio Carpe Diem and Petaluma high schools; Kenilworth, Crossroads and Petaluma junior high schools; Live Oak Charter School; McKinley Elementary School and Mary Collins School took part, though numbers for participation were not available for some of those campuses.
The #Enough National School Walkout, which took place a month after a high school shooting that claimed 17 lives in a Parkland, Florida, was under the umbrella of the national Women’s March Youth EMPOWER movement. The 17-minute event was intended as an outlet for students to call attention to gun violence and honor lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
For 15-year-old Petaluma High School sophomore Lily Paschoal, whose cousin sheltered in the rooms of the Florida high school as a 19-year-old gunman used an AR-15-style semi automatic rifle to kill 14 students and three staff members, the walkout was a poignant and emotional moment.
“We need to keep doing stuff like this and work as a community to make a difference,” she said as tears streamed down her face. “We need stronger gun control.”
Bridget Sisemore, a 15-year-old Petaluma high sophomore, said the event marked a moment of remembrance.
“I felt a little sad about the shooting, it’s hard to look back but it’s worth it,” she said. “You have to remember all the good people in the world. I’m hoping it doesn’t ever happen again.”
Petaluma high freshman Brandon Grunt, 15, said that while he generally feels safe on campus, he would like to see his school bolster its safety protocols, including more frequent drills or pamphlets with safety information and exit routes disseminated to students.
“I want to raise awareness ... and show that people care and that students care,” he said.
A small group of students, including Tallulah Lefkowitz, organized an event at Petaluma High School with speakers from the Petaluma Police Department and the Petaluma-based Metta Center for Nonviolence after the walkout. The 17-year-old sophomore hoped to expose her peers to the myriad of ways to make their voices heard, from registering to vote to interacting with public safety officials to participating in a March 24 March for Our Lives anti-gun violence rally in Santa Rosa.
“I think that students are realizing they do have a voice,” she said. “It’s not that we’re told we don’t have a voice, but we’re raised not to have a voice and to always listen to whoever may be a superior. That’s great, we do need to listen, but we need to have a voice.”
Lefkowitz, who also recruited 32 students to register to vote during the walkout, will spread her message as a speaker at the upcoming rally in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square. She’s advocating for tighter federal restrictions on guns, including raising the age limit for gun ownership and banning assault rifles and bump stocks, which make guns into higher powered weapons.
“I’m walking away excited,” she said. “But still it’s obvious that nothing is done yet –it’s not done at all … I’m still apprehensive.”