FARGO – The number of participants varied by school, but students across Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo joined their counterparts nationwide in walking out of class Wednesday to send a message that school shootings should not be tolerated.
Students were encouraged by the Women’s March Network to demonstrate for change exactly one month after a school shooting claimed the lives of 17 high school students and teachers in Parkland, Fla.
That call was answered at Fargo’s Davies High School, where an administrator estimated 300 of the more than 1,200 students took part in the National School Walkout.
They gathered around a flagpole, some dressed in orange or wearing orange ribbons, a color associated with the movement. A few carried signs with captions, including “One month later and still no change” and “Fear has no place in our schools.”
As one student listed each victim of the Florida school shooting, others released orange balloons bearing their names.
“We don’t expect it to happen to us, but it always could,” said sophomore Kaia Schneider.
Student speakers talked about the desire for change in gun laws, but also about the importance of mental health help and showing kindness to fellow classmates.
“We wanted to not make it super political. I know there’s a ton of different viewpoints within our school,” said senior Brooke Bergen, one of the walkout organizers.‘It ends here’
Moorhead High School had a large walkout as hundreds of students gathered in the gymnasium for a 17-minute presentation that included a biography of each Florida victim.
Student organizer Luke Seidel told his peers that they need to “demand” the right to safety.
“We should never have to think about where to hide, how to barricade the doors or how far and how hard we can throw a textbook at a shooter. But with the world we live in today, those thoughts bounce around our heads,” he said.
Following the memorial, more than 100 students walked to the adjacent Moorhead Sports Center for more speeches.
At West Fargo High School, Mohamed Hamza read Alyssa Alhadeff’s name into a megaphone, pointing out she was a soccer player, just like himself – until Alhadeff died in Parkland. Most of the victims, Hamza reminded students, were younger than him when they died.
West Fargo students gave impassioned, improvised speeches and read off the 17 victims’ names.
“We’re here to focus on the victims; we’re here to focus on the families; we’re here to focus on the communities. We’re here to focus on the fact that it’s not going to happen again,” senior Nastesho Ulow said. “It ends here. This is us taking a stand.”
Those large showings were in stark contrast to the scene at some other area schools, such as Shanley High School. All was quiet Wednesday at the south Fargo Catholic school, and no students gathered outside at the appointed national walkout hour of 10 a.m. A woman at the front desk noted that some students were praying in the chapel.
There was no visible walkout at Fargo South High School at 10 a.m. because the school already had an academic awards assembly and career day scheduled Wednesday morning.
Principal Todd Bertsch said about 175 students participated in a silent walkout a few hours later and then returned to class shortly thereafter.
The walkout at Fargo’s Oak Grove High School was low-key – two seniors left a financial literacy class and met in the library.
"We just want to make a showing of our support," said Christopher Sahmoun, "even if it's just one or two people."
Spencer Green, the other half of the Oak Grove protest, said he supports more mental health counseling and stronger gun control to try to prevent mass shootings.
Two students walked out at Moorhead’s Park Christian School, including junior Taylor Olschlager, who said she wanted to remember the victims.
“Something needs to be done, and this is the only way I could think of to actually get the point across,” she said.
About a hundred students gathered in front of West Fargo’s Sheyenne High School on Wednesday, but an adult chaperone said reporters couldn’t interview students.
Megan Saunders was one of about eight Fargo North High School students who walked out of school at 10 a.m. She said she was open to the idea of some restrictions on gun ownership, particularly when mental illness may be involved.
In the afternoon, more North High students went outside for 17 minutes of reflection. Student Council members Aiden Ackerland and Kyle Tekautz, part of a team that provided biographies of each victim, both said they felt safe at school.
The event was billed as a nonpolitical way of showing support for school safety around the country, yet it showed "we can still have a voice where it matters," Ackerland said.
Forum reporters Taylor Blumer, Emily Driscoll, Nichole Seitz, Patrick Springer and Tu-Uyen Tran contributed to this report.