As thousands of students across America walked out of their schools Wednesday to demand action on gun violence, high school campuses in Memphis were strikingly quiet.
School is out for spring break this week in Shelby County Schools, the state’s Achievement School District, and the county’s suburban districts.
However, students from at least six Memphis-area high schools are planning similar walkouts for April 20, in conjunction with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 students and wounded 20 others in Littleton, Colorado.
So far, student-organized walkouts are on the calendar for White Station, Whitehaven, Germantown, Collierville, Houston, and Lausanne high schools. Like this week’s demonstrations, they will include at least 17 minutes of silence to honor the 17 people killed on Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. There also will be voter registration drives for older students, and information will be distributed on how to contact state lawmakers.
But first, Memphis-area students plan to participate in the nationwide “March for Our Lives” on March 24. The event is being organized by Parkland survivors, who are rallying supporters in Washington, D.C., and in communities across the nation. The Memphis march will be held on a Saturday morning as students and other supporters walk from Clayborn Temple to the National Civil Rights Museum.
Students say they want to push state lawmakers to include student and teacher voices in their deliberations on how to make Tennessee schools safer. Currently, a school safety task force convened by Bill Haslam is holding meetings, and a bill to arm some Tennessee teachers is expected to be revived next week in the legislature.
Savanah Thompson, a student organizer who is a freshman at White Station High School, said she wouldn’t trust some teachers with a gun.
“If you lay a gun on top of that lack of trust, it’s only going to expand that divide between teachers and students,” she said. “Even though it’s meant to protect us, I don’t think it will help any.”
Thompson said students have been talking with school administrators about planned walkouts. She added that student organizers have not received threats of suspension or detention from school officials, as they have in some other communities.
Shelby County Schools is encouraging principals to work proactively with students organizers to ensure student safety.
“District leaders have continued to hold discussions on ways to embrace our students’ rights to free speech and expression on this important topic,” a spokeswoman said in a statement.
White Station senior Brittany Mensah said she hopes both the march and the walkouts will bring a greater sense of urgency to finding solutions for gun violence. For instance, she’d like a higher age limit to purchase guns and mandatory mental health examinations to “make sure that those who do hold guns are 100 percent responsible for them.”
“It’s honestly a shame that kids have to worry about if they’ll come out of the school alive or dead,” she said. “They should not have not have to worry about the status of their life during the school day.”
Chalkbeat reporter Caroline Bauman contributed to this story.