RED LAKE -- About half of Red Lake High School’s student body and a handful of Red Lake Middle Schoolers left class Wednesday as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence in schools.
The walkout here was one of thousands, big and small, held across the country on the one-month anniversary of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead and motivated a sustained political push for tougher gun control and school safety measures -- and it carries a deep significance in Red Lake.
The students on Wednesday gathered a few hundred feet from the spot where, almost exactly 13 years earlier, a student walked into the high school and started shooting. He killed seven people and wounded five more there, then killed himself after a brief shootout with police. He had murdered his grandfather and grandfather’s girlfriend before heading to the school.
“Most of these students are like little sisters and brothers from the victims of the 2005 shooting,” said 11th-grader Mia Long, a Student Council member who helped organize the walkout. She said it was designed to show respect for the shooting victims in Florida and across the country, especially Red Lake.
A few tribal police officers and district leaders watched the walkout from the other side of a long driveway leading up to the middle school.
“I truly believe that if the kids want to protest, the protest has to mean something. If we were to take over the day and do speakers and all that kind of stuff, we'd be co-opting it from them,” said Tracy Olson, the high school’s principal. “This needs to be their voice, right? So, as much as I may personally want to stand there with them, I can't. That's not my job here. The school can't take a side.”
Student leaders met on Tuesday to organize the walkout, then spread the word on Facebook and Snapchat. Many school staffers didn’t know about those plans until they showed up for work Wednesday.
Superintendent Melinda Crowley said the students who left class wouldn’t face discipline unless they used the walkout to leave school entirely.
“I really believe a lot of what we want to teach in school is also how to be appropriately socially active and how to have your voice heard in an appropriate manner,” she said. “This is a non-violent, very appropriate manner, where young children who are not of voting age yet have an ability to express what they think.”
Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki, Sr., and a few other tribal council members stood stoically among the students during their 17-minute moment of silence. He said students invited tribal leaders to the walkout and asked for a show of support.
“They're the future leaders,” Seki said as the high schoolers filed back into the building.