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Illinois

SLIDESHOW: Northern Illinois Students Remember Parkland Victims

Hundreds of students at DeKalb and Sycamore High Schools walked out of school in solidarity Wednesday to honor the students affected by the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.  

DeKalb High School students observed a long moment of silence near the school’s flag pole for those who died in the Parkland shooting. Senior and student organizer Lizzy Warner says she feels there have been larger-scale threats at the school every year she has been there. She also mentioned the Northern Illinois University shooting that happened ten years ago.

“That’s terrifying,” Warner said. “That is in our hometown. This has happened before, and it will and can happen again.”

Sycamore High School Principal Tim Carlson says about a quarter of the school’s students participated in the walk-out.

He says whether students chose to join in or stay in class, he says, it needed to come from them if they want to have their voices be heard and if they want to see change.

“I’m excited either way, whatever side they took a stand on. The kids were having those conversations and looking to try to help our school and community and actually help the world,” Carlson said.

School administrators say they’re taking a neutral stance on issues like gun law reform and arming teachers.

In Rockford, several hundred students signed up in advance to participate in the walkout.  District Superintendent Ehren Jarrett said students would not be disciplined if they took part.  Jefferson senior Joseph Martins said administrators “discouraged” the student body from taking part in a walkout, but he felt it was necessary to send a message.   

"I have four younger siblings and they kind of inspire me because even though I’m going to be out next year and it may not happen to me, the world is only going to get worse, I believe," Martins said. "And I believe if we don’t acclimate to the times that more bad stuff could happen to them."

Martins is especially concerned about building security.  He says he’ll also participate in a second walkout scheduled for next month.

Donald Rundall, principal of Jefferson High School, said students took part in an indoor assembly on Wednesday instead.

“We talked about making sure that they come in and out at we call it 'Door A' where the security office is. And we talked about how adults are ready if [students] see somebody in the hallway without a visitors pass.  You know, everyone stops them.”

Meanwhile, a 17-minute walkout was among a week of activities at Rochelle Township High School to honor the Parkland victims.

The school is calling it “The Week Of Us.” Events include spreading positive messages on post-it notes, talking to seventeen new people, and the 17 minutes of silence to honor each victim.

School counselor Laurie Ellis says promoting inclusiveness is an important part of moving forward.  

“So the idea of kids becoming more aware, the whole idea of being kinder and trying to find their voice – this seemed like a good way to do it,” Ellis said.

Rochelle High School senior Justin Julian says students have a voice to weigh in on gun laws.

“There is no such thing as a permanent way to ban weaponry, for that is more of a hope than an aspiration,” Julian said. “But I do feel we can tighten up the reigns there.”

Julian says about 50 students participated in the walk-out.

Rochelle Senior Jessie Ellis helped organize the week of events. She says the campaign also promotes students having a voice.

“I think gun control is really important to me and I think it’s something Congress should address," Ellis said. "I’m not sure everyone agrees with me, but that’s really important.”

School counselor Natasha Hacaga says strengthening peer-to-peer relationships is a critical part of preventing future tragedies.

“If we’re more aware of each other as people – if we’re respectful of the fact that everyone’s fighting their own battle, and we don’t know what goes on in every person’s life, but we are respectful of them as people, then we hope that’s a change that can come out of something so horrific.”

To wrap up the week, students plan to mold their hand-prints with messages to send to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

  • Chase Cavanaugh, Katie Finlon, Jessie Schlacks, and Susan Stephens contributed to this report.