Hundreds of students walked out of class and onto the lawn at Wichita East High School on Wednesday morning, where they joined millions nationwide in a protest against school violence.
Junior Sydney Beal, who organized the mid-morning walkout despite a district directive that urged students to rally during lunchtime or after school instead, used a bullhorn to read the names of students and teachers who died in a school shooting one month ago in Parkland, Florida.
Afterward, she led the crowd in a few chants and urged elected officials to listen to the student demonstrators.
"What happened after Columbine? What happened after Sandy Hook? What happened after the shooting in Las Vegas?" Beal shouted. "Nothing happened! . . . We demand change!"
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Several students held signs reading, "We Want Change" and "Never Again."
East High is the largest high school in the state, with about 2,300 students.
At Buckner Elementary School in northeast Wichita, Matt Walston took his daughter, Athene, out of her first-grade class and stood with her outside the school during the protest. The girl held a sign that said "Enough" in large crayoned letters.
On the back of the sign, Athene had written, "Do not shoot."
"We were the only ones standing there, but that's OK," Walston said. "People said this was just a high-school protest or whatever, but the problem is happening everywhere. . . If something's going to change, it has to change at every level."
Following the 17-minute demonstration at East High — timed to commemorate the 17 victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High — students were directed back into the school through its main, security-controlled entrance. Officials have said their departure would be counted as an unexcused absence.
At Northeast Magnet High School in Bel Aire, principal Matt Creasman said in a letter to families that about 200 students participated in "what was a very highly organized, respectful, and powerful walkout for a cause that they obviously believe in."
Creasman said that because it happened during school time, "students who participated will not do so without a consequence."
Later this month, Northeast Magnet students who participated will be expected to serve a lunch detention with Creasman in the school auditorium, the letter said.
"I plan to use this time as a civic engagement opportunity, where I will talk with them about school safety and what they can do here to help make us a safer place," he said in the letter. He said he would review crisis procedures and ask students for their suggestions.
"One of the central elements to civil disobedience is understanding that with the act, comes a consequence. To not accept that consequence is to cheapen the cause," Creasman said. "It is my hope that all students who walked out will willingly serve this consequence and share their thoughts."
At North High School near 13th Street and Waco, principal Sherman Padgett said about 250 students participated in the mid-morning walkout.
North students were in their advocacy classes — a study-hall-style seminar class — at 10 a.m., so many were able to leave class if they had pre-signed passes elsewhere. Participating students "quickly returned" to their next class about four minutes late, Padgett said.
"Our kids were absolutely great," he said. "They stood silently (nearly) for 17 minutes and then went right back to classes. I'm proud of them."
Padgett said the normal consequence for being late to class at North High is a tardy detention. "Some kids will receive . . . a detention, but many have one of their five free tardies left to use," he said.
Jamie Finkeldei, associate superintendent of Catholic schools for the Wichita Diocese, said he didn't get reports of any students participating in the walkout. Catholic high schools held prayer services at 10 a.m., which differed slightly by school.
"Bishop Carroll announced each victim's name and read a little about each one and ended with a prayer," Finkeldei said. "They said it worked really well."
East High senior Julian Ibarra said he initially considered not participating in the walkout, because he worried about possible repercussions. But then he decided to join his classmates.
"Even if this means getting a detention or something like that, I think it's worth it to send a message," said Ibarra, who was dressed in a tuxedo for a choir competition scheduled later Wednesday.
"I hope elected officials recognize that just because we are young people doesn't mean that we are dumb or that we don't know what we're talking about," he said. "Ultimately, our lives are at stake. So if anyone should have an opinion, it is us."
Several East High students said after the walkout that the school let teachers decide consequences for students who walked out of their classes.
Reporters from local and national media covered the walkout from a sidewalk on the south side of Douglas Avenue in front of East High. Julia Reinstein, a reporter for BuzzFeed News based in New York, said she traveled to Wichita to cover the walkout.
Wichita district officials, citing safety concerns, issued a statement last week saying, "We can't support students leaving the building for a walkout demonstration. If this occurs, we will follow our tardy and unexcused attendance policies."
Some surrounding districts arranged supervision for students during the walkout and said students would not face consequences if they followed safety guidelines. It was unclear how many students participated in the Wichita area, since walkouts were brief, and there was no official report from district officials.
Ibbara, the East High senior, said some students may have used Tuesday's event as a chance to get out of class. But the demonstration should be a learning experience for those high-schoolers, too, he said.
"I hope kids who showed up today understand the reality of the situation and take on a new role in their own lives — someone who is vocal, someone who is willing to have an opinion on issues like this that matter," he said.