Students at Southridge Junior High School in the Moore school district did organize against school shootings Wednesday, though they did not walk out of the building.
Instead, students gathered in the school’s cafeteria at 10 a.m. It was similar across Moore Public Schools campuses, as students gathered in more private settings.
Media were not allowed to take photos or video of the students’ organized action, nor were they able to hear Southridge eighth grader Lauren Haizlip, one of the main organizers of the day’s events, speak to the crowd. Haizlip said that while working with school administrators, the cafeteria was chosen as a venue “for safety reasons.”
A message left for Moore Public Schools Director of Safety and Security Dustin Horstkoetter was not returned as of press time Wednesday.
Though the morning didn’t quite go as Haizlip had hoped, she still saw the walkout as a success.
“We had a lot of students come, and the majority of the students follow our Instagram page,” Haizlip said. “That’s where we post a lot of the opinions we weren’t able to discuss during the walkout. So I feel it was effective for students.
“We had parents in attendance, as well, so we were able to reach a larger audience. Those are the ones who could vote in our favor at the polls.”
Walkouts took place nationwide as students remembered the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida a month ago, using the hashtag #Enough which Haizlip and supporters of the event wore on t-shirts. Like many of the schools, Southridge organized for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim — during which time the victims’ names were read out, a synopsis of the shooting was given, and a moment of silence was held.
But the walkouts were also used to protest what some see as relaxed gun laws that enable shootings like the one in Florida. Haizlip said she believes added restrictions will help prevent similar events in the future.
“We need to have stricter regulations on gun purchases,” she said. “The background checks and mental health checks need to be enforced way more. There are plenty of students, at my school even, that we would be concerned if they purchased a firearm. There are so many people out there who are cruel people. If they possess a firearm, it’s horrible what they can do and how malicious they are.”
That’s something Haizlip said she couldn’t say when addressing the student body gathered in Southridge’s cafeteria on Wednesday.
“I was not permitted to talk about many of the topics I wanted to talk about because it was being held at school, and for that reason we had to water-down our speech a little bit,” she said.
What was included is how schools are drilled on how to handle active shooters right now. Haizlip said part of that training includes holding a shooter in a classroom for as long as possible so others can evacuate, even if that means anyone in that room could be shot.
Not everyone who took part in Wednesday’s walkouts were in favor of gun control. In Norman, for example, there were counter protests against gun control measures.
Though it could not be brought up during her speech, Haizlip made clear that her group of students does not support the idea of arming teachers.
“I know President Trump has discussed arming teachers. I personally think that’s awful, cost-wise alone,” she said. “Without talking about insurance or the possibility of a teacher turning on a student, there’s no way we could possibly pay for it. We can’t pay for updated school books. How are we going to afford a gun for 20 percent of the teachers in our schools?”
From here, Haizlip said she will continue her activism work for policies designed to prevent school shootings. There are further marches she’ll take part in, and a group from Southridge will go to the March for Our Lives event at the Oklahoma State Capitol on March 24.
“Now I’ve become aware and I think I’ve matured a lot, I think it’s just become more personal,” Haizlip said about what led her to take action. “This is an important thing that students need to talk about to other students. If an adult’s talking, you’re not going to listen as much. But if it’s coming from a peer, I feel like it’s going to reach a broader audience and students are going to pay attention.”