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Safety & Discipline

W. Pa. students to join national walkout for school safety

| Tuesday, March 13, 2018, 9:34 a.m.
Students console each other as they weep during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Students console each other as they weep during a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder on Thursday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.
Gerald Herbert/AP
A makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and faculty were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

High school students across Allegheny and Westmoreland counties plan to join others across the country Wednesday morning by walking out of class to protest gun violence and show support for efforts to improve school safety.

Though logistics vary from school to school, the walkouts are intended to honor the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla. Wednesday marks the one-month anniversary of the shooting that killed 17 people.

In many cases, students plan to leave class at 10 a.m. and stand in silence for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim of the Parkland shooting.

Dubbed the ENOUGH National School Walkout, plans originated with the group EMPOWER, a coalition of organizations led by the youth division of the January 2017 Women's March organizers.

In addition to honoring victims and survivors of gun violence, the group also encourages students to support policy initiatives directed at reducing gun violence, register to vote and share their efforts with local lawmakers.

Another nationwide school walkout is planned for April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. Plans for marches in cities across the country, including Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., also are in place.

Students at Hampton, Gateway, North Allegheny and South Park High Schools, among others across Allegheny and Westmoreland Counties, plan to participate this week. In many cases, students sought support from administrators.

Students at Southmoreland High School, for example, will walk out of class at 10 a.m. and gather in a common area for a moment of silence. Students are making posters sharing their concerns about school safety to display during the demonstration, student organizer Dakota Coffman said. Coffman, a junior, worked with district administrators to plan the event.

Valley High School in the New Kensington-Arnold School District, Highlands middle and high Schools and Greensburg Salem middle and high schools will also host indoor walkout activities Wednesday.

At Springdale High School in the Allegheny Valley School District, students will wear white to symbolize peace and their hope to improve safety in schools, according to a letter to parents from Superintendent Patrick Graczyk. Other activities will also take place throughout the day, the letter said.

Students at Mt. Pleasant Area High School in Westmoreland County will take a different approach to showing their support for the movement Wednesday. They'll meet during the activity period at the end of the school day to write postcards to local and state lawmakers.

Planned by four students in collaboration with administrators, Mt. Pleasant already hosted a 17-minute walk to promote school safety in February.

"The post card campaign is to make them aware that students and staff need their support in providing our schools with the ability to improve upon safety measures," Principal Ken Williams said.

Seton Hill University plans a series of events Wednesday, including a walkout at 10 a.m. Students will gather outside the administration building for a 17-minute ceremony and then walk to Sullivan Lawn on the Greensburg campus.

Students, faculty and staff will write letters to legislators on school violence and mass shootings as well as sign a banner to be sent to students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Finally, a panel discussion on mass shootings will be held at 8:30 p.m. in the Rose O'Brien Center for Campus Ministry, Maura Hall.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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