Choctaw students stage walkout memorial for Parkland victims

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“This isn’t a protest. This is more of a memorial, for respect. We want it in our hearts.”

Annie Blanks @DestinLogAnnie

FORT WALTON BEACH — Approximately 150 students at Choctawhatchee High School staged a walkout Friday morning to honor the 17 lives lost in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.

The students, led by a group of seniors, stood outside the front of the school’s main building in silence for 17 minutes. A few teachers, school principal Lee Hale and three deputies from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office stood outside the group to watch over the students.

Hallie Duhon, a freshman, said the walkout wasn’t meant to protest gun control laws, but rather to memorialize the 17 students who lost their lives when a lone gunman opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.

“This isn’t a protest. This is more of a memorial, for respect. We want it in our hearts,” Duhon said. “They (the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students) are probably not going to find out about this, but I just want to feel like Stoneman knows that we’re here for them, no matter what. And we really want to stick together because it could have been us so easily.”

Brianna Banks, a senior who helped organize the group of students, said she and several other seniors spread the word about the walkout through social media.

The walkout was in response to other teenagers who she said haven’t taken the shooting seriously.

“Too many kids our age just don’t realize that this could happen to you,” Banks said. “It’s real, and it gets closer and closer, and to me this one was so close because it was in Florida, which is not that far. We have other kids who kind of take it as a joke already, just in this area, and I don’t want them doing that. I just wanted to show our respect and try and make it a big deal so that people just don’t let it go.

“Too many people lose their lives and people forget,” she continued. “We just want them to know that we care, we see, we understand what happened.”

Protests also took place at other local high schools, including Navarre High School.

After the walkout, the students were ushered back into the school by Hale and resumed their classes. The principal said the students wouldn’t face discipline for their actions because they were organized and respectful throughout the walkout.

“When students are organized, they do things the right way, they don’t act out … they just want their voice heard and they do it the right way and the organized way,” Hale said. “It has an impact for them and it creates a situation whereby we can rely that things aren’t going awry, which creates problems for us.”

Hale added that he has “awesome” students and he understood why the teenagers were so deeply affected by last week’s tragedy.

“When there is something going on in this world, they are very plugged in to that,” he said. “And certainly they feel a collegiality with all students, and when something is impacting one group, they feel it.”

Hale said he was inspired by the students’ ability to have mature discussions about things going on around them, and said he was thankful for local law enforcement who “keep our kids at ease so that they can continue to have those mature conversations without living in fear.

“It’s really neat to watch these kids everyday, that’s why I love my job,” he said. “They are the next generation, and when they can have good conversations that make sense in a good, healthy, lively debate without being confrontational or condescending, it lets us know that not only do we have great kids, but we are doing things right.”

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