Students at several Anchorage schools have plans to leave their classes Friday as part of a national walkout to protest gun violence and press for stricter gun control laws on the 19th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School.
"This is an issue that is affecting every single one of us," said Madison Xiong, a 16-year-old junior at Bartlett High and an organizer of the school's demonstration Friday.
"Hopefully they'll see that we are scared and we want something done," said Alexa Todd, a 15-year-old student organizer at Service High.
The events are part of the National School Walkout, a student-led protest against what participants see as lawmakers' failure to take action to prevent gun violence. Friday's walkouts are the latest demonstrations in a swell of activism after 14 students and three staff members were shot and killed at a Florida high school Feb. 14.
Across the country, more than 2,000 walkouts were planned for Friday and registered online. Two of those are at Anchorage middle schools and seven at local high schools. Students at a couple other local schools said they were organizing walkouts, but had not yet registered.
The demonstrations planned in Anchorage vary by school.
At Bartlett High, Xiong said, the students will meet in the school's lobby at 11:19 a.m., the time the Columbine shooting started. They will have a moment of silence and listen to a current student and former student speak about gun violence and gun control. At South High, students are planning a similar event, yet outside and earlier in the day. At Service High, students will walk to the gym during lunch where those old enough can register to vote. Students also organized a panel discussion on school safety that includes Anchorage School District administrators, Todd said.
"We wanted this to be more proactive," she said.
In line with the national movement, the student organizers have asked their peers to wear orange.
Kersten Johnson-Struempler, Anchorage schools senior director of secondary education, said the district does not approve or disapprove of Friday's demonstrations. The students have the right to freedom of speech, she said, as long as it's not extremely disruptive to the school environment.
While national student organizers have called for Friday's walkouts to start at 10 a.m. local time and last the rest of the school day, Johnson-Struempler said she had not heard about any Anchorage students planning demonstrations that long.
If students do miss class Friday, they will be marked absent and expected to make up any work. However, they will not face additional repercussions, like detention, she said.
"They have the right to voice their opinion about something and we don't want to dissuade them from using that right," she said.
This is Johnson-Struempler's 19th year in the district and she said she has never seen students organize like they have been for Friday's demonstrations.
"I have never seen anything of this magnitude," she said. "I've seen protests in very, very small numbers, but this is a pretty big deal."