NORTHEAST WISCONSIN (WBAY) - Students across the country peacefully walked out of their schools Wednesday morning as a protest against gun violence and a way to honor the victims of the Parkland, Florida school shooting.
At 10 a.m., students in Northeast Wisconsin walked out of school for 17 minutes to honor the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
It's been one month since a gunman entered the school and shot and killed students and staff members.
Organizers behind the walkouts are calling for Congress to pass stricter gun regulations to prevent mass shootings. The motto of the walkout is #Enough.
The Associated Press billed the walkouts as "one of the biggest student protests since the Vietnam era."
Action 2 News traveled to several schools to find out why the students decided to walk out or walk up, and what they did to honor victims.
In De Pere, students placed flowers on 17 empty chairs as students read the names of Parkland shooting victims. Some students became emotional and shed tears. They held hands in solidarity and chanted the words "never again."
"It’s incredible that so many kids want change and are willing to go through so much to get this change, so no one else has to go through what the victims in the florida school shooting had to go through," said Kate Koenig, De Pere High School student.
The high school students are reminding lawmakers that they will soon be able to cast a vote.
"The majority of us can't vote but there are laws being passed that are going to affect our daily lives, and I think that these movements that are happening all across the country today and will happen all across the country for the next upcoming months are so powerful to these kids. It gives them a platform, and empowers them to go out into the world and actually make change," said Ellie Roth.
Community member Rod Kowalczwk called it a lesson in democracy.
"I saw the students march out in a very positive way, very quiet way, and I thought, what a lesson these kids are learning about the democracy of our country, that they can do this," Kowalczwk said.
At Bay Port High School, about 200 students took part in 17 minutes of silence to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting.
Bay Port junior Abbi Bender became emotional as she read this statement to her classmates: "These empty chairs are here to honor the victims and serve as a reminder that if we don't take action now, more chairs in classrooms around the nation will be left vacant due to senseless gun violence and mass shootings."
Bender tells Action 2 News she hopes lawmakers are watching.
"Demanding that our legislators listen to us. November is coming up fast and the seniors here will be able to vote, and some juniors will be able to vote, and I think that it's kind of just making sure that the people that are up for re-election know that we want to be heard and we want to be taken seriously and their jobs are at stake if they don't listen," Bender says.
The Brown County Public Safety Committee recently heard a discussion about having armed guards or retired police officers in schools. A district supervisor has asked Sheriff John Gossage to create plans and present them to schools.
Action 2 News asked Bay Port Principal Mike Frieder about the armed guard proposal.
"Well I happen to sit in the crime prevention task force and that's been with them also at our last meeting and I think it'll be a discussion in the future. I think there's a lot of details that need to be worked out before I'd make any comment," Frieder said.
Abbi Bender says armed guards are an option, but shouldn't be the only option when it comes to school safety.
"Having someone like that in schools is a great idea but there was an armed guard at Parkland and that didn't stop 17 students and staff members from getting killed, and so obviously there need to be more action taken," Bender says.
NORTH FOND DU LAC
Students at Horace Mann High School in North Fond du Lac took a different approach to the day by walking up.
Walk Up is a social media-driven movement to walk up to a classmate who may feel left out. It's an effort to improve school safety by taking on bullying.
"Getting out and talking to other people, making more friends, not being so mean to one another, really just accepting everybody that you're around," said Veronica Brunette.
Students wanted to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting by spreading a message of kindness.
"I can never watch that happen to my peers and I can't imagine the trauma the students are facing and I kind of want to raise awareness that we can make a change," said Brunette.
The students held a rally where they learned more about their classmates.
"So as a school we're better as a community, everyone feels open to talking to everybody. So no one feels singled out," Brunette said.
Students also took the opportunity to write to lawmakers.
"I want to see a lot more compassion in schools," said Jarrod Gaffney, "So we can make it a safe school, a place that everyone feels welcome."
The National Rifle Association on Wednesday tweeted, "Let's work together to secure our schools and stop school violence. We protect our banks, our sports stadiums and our government buildings better than we protect our schools. That must change."
SCHOOL SAFETY BILL
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed the STOP School Violence Act that would allot $50 million per year in Department of Justice grants to fund training and other efforts to strengthen school safety.
The bill also funds school security improvements with metal detectors, upgraded locks, and emergency notification systems.
The bill passed the House in a 407-10 vote.