Zach Thomas, 17, was leaving Weber High School in Pleasant View last month when he learned that 17 people had been killed in another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen of those victims were high school students, just like him.
He said he felt he needed to do something to show solidarity with those involved. He chose to organize a school walkout.
“We have school shootings; we have concert shootings,” Thomas said. “We are supposed to go to school to learn, not to be afraid for our lives.”
Thomas was one of thousands of students across the country who walked out of their classrooms Wednesday, March 14, to remember the Parkland shooting victims and to protest gun violence.
At Weber High School, about 300 students — led by Thomas — gathered on the school’s soccer field at 10 a.m., joining hundreds of students in the state calling for safer schools.
“There was people who told me that no one was going to come today,” Thomas said.
He organized the event a couple of days after the Florida shooting and met with Weber High School’s principal to talk about the walkout. The principal allowed Thomas to organize a walkout and he recruited some of his friends. They used social media and distributed flyers around the school.
School districts across the state had different approaches to students walking out. Lane Findlay, Weber School District spokesman, said schools in the district were working with the students to ensure their safety, even when the walkouts were not a school-sponsored event.
Students at Weber High School were allowed to walk out for 17 minutes without facing any consequences.
Emma Blanch, 17, said she walked out to raise awareness for school safety.
“We are all a little bit worried about a shooting or some sort of violence at our school,” Blanch. “I want to be safe.”
Blach hopes the walkouts across the state will make an impact on legislators.
“I’m hoping … politicians really notice our voices,” Blanch said. “I hope we just don’t get ignored.”
Students at Fremont High School in Plain City left their classrooms at 10 a.m. and stayed in the hallways for 17 minutes.
Hope Winter, 16, said walking out for 17 minutes was the least she could do out of respect to the victims of school shootings.
“Somebody in my class said that school shootings are the normal now,” Winter said. “I’m hoping that eyes are opened to the community that it isn’t just about guns — it’s about the generation that will change the way people die.”
At Clearfield High School, about 300 students walked out and paid tribute to the victims.
Jazmyne Olson, 16, said some adults have failed teenagers across the country.
“Something has to change; we’ve let it come too far,” Olson said. “If the adults aren’t going to do anything, we will.”
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Some school districts in Northern Utah allowed students to walk out of the classrooms for a determined amount of time. Students were asked to stay on campus and administrators escorted them during their walkout.
Some school districts, such as Davis, barred reporters from school campuses.
“The media is only on campus when we invite them,” Chris Williams, Davis School District spokesman, said. “We just chose not to invite the media on our school campuses in that time.”
Findlay said the district initially was concerned about student safety during the walkout.
“When there is an event organized and there are a lot of students gathering together, there’s a bit of a safety concern,” Findlay said. “If someone would like to make a radical statement, what better venue than that?”
Weber School District allowed members of the media go onto Weber High’s campus to cover the event.
Thomas, the student organizer at Weber High School, asked his peers to be kind to one another and to talk to the outcasts, those who sit by themselves.
“Look at 17 people around you in this crowd and just imagine they are gone, just like that,” Thomas said. “They were just like us, trying to pass a class, trying to fit in, trying to feel at home.”
Olivia Judkins, a contributor to the Standard-Examiner’s TX section, also contributed to this report.