Wheat Ridge High School Students Make Voices Heard


Savannah Spaulding

Students protest during the 17 minute walkout.

Nathan Reich and Julles Marquez

In response to the tragic school shooting in Florida last month, concerned students and distressed citizens are organizing and participating in walkouts, protests, and petitioning throughout the country during the months of March and April.

Even here at Wheat Ridge High School, infamous for their indifferent (even lethargic) lack of participation in walkouts in the past, there are people interested in making their voices heard.
Many of these students voiced their opinions on Tuesday, participating in the 17-minute walkout that morning. The clear objective of the protestors was mixed. One large group, mostly made up of upperclassmen, was the group with the people who seemed to be in charge of the demonstration. They held signs, organized the other students into a minute of silence, and thanked them for coming out in protest of school violence. While these appeared to be the more politically outspoken people, many students, it appears, were hoping for something more along the lines of remembering and paying respects to the deceased students in Florida. While some of the students had rational reasons for walking out, others appeared to be outside simply for socializing purposes and to get out of class.

Some of the more legitimate protesters were senior students Hattie Juarez, Rachel Vigil, and Grady Fagan and junior Kaeli Forster. These active students were among those with signs were in charge. Deciding to go even further than simply walking out, these students have put forward a petition to “encourage lawmakers to make it difficult for people who shouldn’t have guns to obtain one.” Drafted by Vigil and Fagan, this petition basically has the goal of limiting the free reign of guns. More specific goals of the petition include closing the gun show loopholes (that is, requiring everyone to have a background check), raising the minimum purchasing age to 21, banning automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons in communities, incorporating a longer waiting period (to prevent suicide by gun), establishing broader background checks (that include mental health information), repealing the 1996 Dicky amendment, and eliciting periodical mental health checks. While this may seem like quite an optimistic endeavour for four high school girls, their short term purpose, as stated by Juarez, is to obtain over 100,000 signatures for this petition. This will, hopefully, encourage the lawmakers response, she said.

In order to both professionalize and increase credibility of their petition, these ambitious students enlisted the professional help of Wheat Ridge High School social studies teacher and former lawyer Arik Heim. By taking suggestions from a former professional, the petition leaders hoped that the the petition would be both more convincing and more credible to the general public.

One hundred thousand signatures is no easy feat. So while Vigil and Grady jointly drafted the petition, Juarez and Forster worked and are still working to publicize it. Taking full advantage of social media, Juarez and Forster have been spreading the word throughout the school and even plan to get in contact with other schools. Posting information online since early March, the girls hope to obtain the 100,000 signatures as soon as possible. Juarez also hopes to organize meetings with other schools to come together on April 20, one of the nationally recognized “walkout days” in response to the Florida shooting. During Tuesday’s walkout, these students held signs advertising the petition to spread the word as much as possible.

Also present at the walkout, besides the concerned protesters, respectful students, socializing teenagers, and assorted school staff (for security purposes), was a small group of attentive citizens present just off the school property. These concerned people were there, they said, primarily to support the students in their walkout and protesting. Additionally, they were there to not only support gun legislation (specifically the banning of the AR-15 assault rifles, which they said were “Weapons made for killing for the military.”) They also wanted to make their voices heard about increasing school security. “Backpack checks” was one suggested solution, and one citizen even said that school security should be on par with airport security. They went on to say that while they were “not trying to repress the rights provided by the second amendment,” that there was “no reason for citizens to have [automatic or semi-automatic weapons].”
The reasons that students opted not to walk out range from abject disagreement with increased gun legislation to indifference of to fear of being attacked. Many others simply thought that there should be much more emphasis on the students who suffered in Florida rather than on the political side of the issue.

Despite all of this, and despite those who took advantage of the protest and simply got out of class for 17 minutes, the walkout was a powerful expression, both for the students involved (at least some of them) and those who decided not to. It seems that even here, at Wheat Ridge High School, the tragic events that rocked the nation are taking a hold and pushing students to express their views.