A group of Natrona County High School students are planning a walkout next week to show solidarity with the victims of school shootings and not as a statement against guns or the Second Amendment, organizers said.
“Our walkout is planned to last 1,606 seconds to symbolize the 1,606 school shootings that have taken place in this country since Sandy Hook,” the organizers wrote in a letter to NCHS staff and administration.
The 1,606 figure seems to refer to the estimated total number of mass shootings since the December 2012 massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
The organizers will lead the walkout at 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to a flier distributed by student organizers, who refer to themselves as Casper Youth for Change. The event is set to occur three weeks after 17 people were gunned down in a high school in Parkland, Florida, by a former student carrying an AR-15 assault weapon.
In the aftermath of the shooting, student survivors have become vocal advocates for gun control and have ignited a national debate. Simultaneously, officials nationwide — including President Donald Trump — have discussed arming staff and banning firearm sales to certain groups.
Hunter Bullard, a senior at NCHS and one of the primary organizers, said the planning started in a group text message exchange. There are roughly 25 students in the organization, and Bullard expects at least 50 students to participate in the walkout.
The event is not scheduled as the same day as the nationwide high school walkout, sparked by the teenage survivors of the Parkland massacre and set for March 14. Bullard said that was intentional, to set the Casper action away from the more gun control-centered national protest.
“Our overall goal is to just show solidarity,” she said. “Different people in the movement have different feelings about what the actions should be. I think all of us are in agreement, we support the Second Amendment, we support the Constitution, but we feel that something needs to be done.”
Kayla Ostrem, another organizer and senior at the high school, said they weren’t advocating any policy changes.
“We’re simply saying, ‘We stand with you, and no kid should have to go to school in fear,’” added sophomore Tanner Ewalt.
It’s unclear if the students will face any punishment for walking out. Superintendent Steve Hopkins said Monday night that he wasn’t aware of the protest but that his first inclination isn’t to punish the students.
“We hope we don’t get punished for this, but we also understand why we would get punished because we are leaving class and taking away from learning time for kids who are leaving,” Ewalt said, adding that a potential punishment was “not at all” a deterrent.
The Star-Tribune made requests to interview Natrona County High School Principal Shannon Harris through a district spokeswoman. Harris was not made available.
Bullard said the group put out the letter to administrators and staff to make organizers’ intentions clear. She said there had been rumors that some administrators were frustrated and critical because they assumed it was an anti-gun march.
Ewalt said he feared it was only “a matter of time before a tragedy happens” in a Wyoming high school. He wanted to show lawmakers that students here were active and vocal.
In the wake of the Florida shooting, the debate about whether to arm school staff has erupted again. In Wyoming, several school districts are looking closely at whether to institute a policy allowing staff to carry firearms. On Monday night, several members of Natrona County school board expressed interest in the idea. Hopkins said he and district staff planned to look closer into the idea.
There have been several threats made to Wyoming schools since the Feb. 14 Florida attack, including at least two in the Natrona County School District.