Students protest at Senior High Wednesday morning.
About 600 students from Billings’ three public high schools joined students across the country Wednesday morning in a 17-minute walkout to commemorate the 17 people killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting last month.
School District 2 Superintendent Terry Bouck, who was observing the demonstration at Billings Senior High, estimated the crowd of students there at 200, and he said administrations at West and Skyview high schools estimated they had groups of the same size.
The walkout was part of a nationwide demonstration to remember the Parkland victims and to call on Congress to take action to end gun violence.
Ana Strong Garcia, one of the student organizers of the walkout at Senior, addressed her fellow students with a bullhorn, saying, “We want change and we want it now, not after the next mass shooting.” In future years, she said, when positive change finally happens, “We can say we were a part of that.”
School District 2 officials didn’t endorse the demonstration, but they did allow those who wanted to go outside for 17 minutes to do so. They also asked non-students to stay off school property as students gathered on the lawn in front of Senior High. A line of caution tape marked off the area reserved for the protest.
About 50 people lined up on the sidewalk along Grand Avenue, mostly to cheer the students on and to wave signs of their own.
Senior High Principal Jeff Unruh said enrollment at the school is just over 1,800, and that attendance on Wednesday was normal. Bouck said classes continued as scheduled during the walkout.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” Bouck added. “We gave them parameters and they followed them, and they’re exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Scattered throughout the crowd of demonstrations was a smattering of counter-protesters. On several occasions, the main body of protesters, responding to inaudible remarks from the counter-protesters, said they weren’t opposed to the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Under similar provocation, the larger group of protesters at one point began chanting, “Gun safety is not a political issue.”
Other chants included, “No more silence. End Gun violence,” “Safe schools now” and “This is what democracy looks like.”