Education

Hundreds of Iowa students plead, 'please stop killing us'

Corridor students protest gun violence on anniversary of Columbine

MARION— Were a gunman to barge into her classroom, 16-year-old Cheyenne Mann would feel as if there were a target on her back.

So as she prepared for her school’s walkout Friday to call attention to gun violence, she made one — painting it red and white, puncturing gunshot-like holes in it and taping it to her body.

“I wanted 17 for the victims of Parkland, then I realized how many holes that was,” Cheyenne said, filing out of Linn-Mar High School with hundreds of her classmates. “Adding the gunshots into this, it really made me realize how awful this is.”

Video: Linn-Mar students, led by speaker Kevin Drahos, 17, rally against gun violence

Students who walked out of Linn-Mar High said they were marching for safer schools and “common-sense” gun laws. They joined thousands of demonstrations across the state and nation for events planned on the April 20 date — 19 years since the massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School that killed 12 students and a teacher.

The walkouts came just more than two months since an assailant killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The Linn-Mar students who left school will receive unexcused absences and need to serve detention, according to the school. In a statement, administrators said “the school district prefers that our students are in class learning. However, we recognize the importance of this action and applaud their efforts to make their voices heard.”

The punishment didn’t deter the 250-some students who marched more than a mile from school to City Square Park, chanting “enough is enough” and yelling “please stop killing us.”

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When they arrived at the square, several students addressed a crowd of their peers and supportive adults, including representatives from Moms Demand Action.

“An unexcused absence doesn’t compare to the lives we’ll save,” said Kevin Drahos, 17, who organized Friday’s march and a February demonstration that involved more than 600 students. “ ... It’s been two months since our first march. There have been no effective policies passed, and our voices are still not being heard.”

Many students in Marion wore around their neck price tags for $6.47. The amount, calculated by national March for Our Lives organizers, represented the National Rifle Association’s donations to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst divided by the number of Iowa students.

Drahos called out Republicans Ernst, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley and U.S. Rep. Rod Blum for accepting NRA money.

“Our lawmakers have been ignoring this epidemic for such a long time. But why? One of the answers is hanging around some of your necks: NRA blood money,” Drahos said.

Students spoke out against all acts of gun violence. Leslie Hess, a woman who survived the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, and Linn-Mar student Diamond Purchase, who said her family members have been victims of gun violence, spoke to the crowd about the impact shootings had on them.

Video: Students gather at the capitol to protest gun violence


“What’s crazy is African-Americans are not safe in their own neighborhoods, and now these crazy people want to take our school safety from us, too — all of us, not just black people, but everyone,” said Diamond, 17, who lived in Joliet, Ill., before Marion.

As students staged a “die-in” and lied still on the ground, Linn-Mar administrators supervising the march stood solemnly to the side — whispering to each other about another school shooting that had taken place that morning in Ocala, Fla.

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“They’re concerned about their safety,” district communications director Matthew May said, looking on at the Linn-Mar students. “It’s a powerful message.”

Kennedy High School students in Cedar Rapids also planned to walk ut Friday. Iowa City students — who did not have school Friday — staged a die-in at the University of Iowa on a walkway commemorating one of the victims of a Nov. 1, 1991, campus shooting that killed five.

CHANTS RING ACROSS CAPITOL COMPLEX

In Des Moines, several hundred high-school students and adults gathered on the west steps of the Iowa Capitol to wave placards, chant slogans, share songs and hear speeches promoting safety in Iowa schools.

Chants of “no more silence, end gun violence” rang across the Capitol complex as the throng of area students came to deliver their messages to Iowa’s policymakers.

The Legislature was not in session Friday and only a handful of legislators was at the Capitol.

One was Senate Democratic Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines, who said the day belonged to students and she was there to listen.

“I think it’s an important time in our country as kids are getting more civically engaged so it’s exciting to see,” she said. “I think all Iowans want to make sure that our kids are safe in their schools and so it’s time for us to listen to what our kids have to say.”

GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds said she shared the concerns about school safety and was pleased lawmakers this session approved legislation requiring schools to have high-quality safety plans in place and to conduct practice drills annually.

“There’s no one single answer to this. We need to look it from a holistic perspective and that’s mental health, that’s background checks — making sure that they’re effective — making sure that we’re communicating,” she had told reporters Thursday. “It’s really about implementing the laws that are on the books. If you take a look at what happened in Florida, it failed at every single level so even with existing laws on the books, it didn’t stop that from happening.”

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Senate President Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, said he believed the school-safety requirements will help along with more flexibility the Legislature gave K-12 districts in using up to $35 million in grant money to make safety improvements.

“This is always something that we have to be looking at and we always have to take into consideration the balance of school safety and constitutional rights as well,” Schneider said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

Rod Boshart of The Gazette contributed to this report.

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