Students from several Los Angeles area high schools met in Santa Monica, California on Tuesday, April 17, 2018 to discuss a planned walkout and protest rally at Santa Monica City Hall on Friday, April 20. Clockwise from top center: Camille Hannant, Maddie Fenster, Aislinn Russell, Spencer Newman, Lorenzo De Los Reyes, Lea Yamashiro, Roger Gawne, Siri Storstein, and Travis Ackermann. (Helena Sung/Corsair Staff)

Students from several local high schools met in a church hall in Santa Monica on Tuesday night to finalize plans for today’s scheduled walkouts at 10 a.m. and a rally at Santa Monica City Hall at 11 a.m. in protest of gun violence. Called the Los Angeles Student Activist Coalition (LASAC), the group is comprised of public and private school students from Santa Monica High School, University High School, Venice High School, Beverly Hills High School, Archer School for Girls, and Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences, among others.

“We want to be a part of this change that people are talking about,” said Lea Yamashiro, a junior at Santa Monica High School who is in charge of publicizing the school’s walkout and protest at city hall.

Today marks the 19-year anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado that killed 13 people. High schools across the country are again planning walkouts in protest of gun violence. It is the third such national protest since a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14 galvanized students to walk out of classes on March 14, and organize “March for Our Lives” protests across the country on March 24.

“A lot of this is in anger at what happened to these kids [in Parkland],” Yamashiro said. “When I found out 17 people at a school got shot, I had a full-on panic attack. I felt a connection to these kids. One of the girls was a soccer player, like me, and seeing a projection of myself in a student who was dead completely freaked me out. I see it as future friends of mine, colleagues, and college students who were just stripped away.”

Younger students who grew up doing lockdown drills and thinking that they could die at school was normal think that’s horrible. “I was born in 2002 – after Columbine,” said Roger Gawne, a freshman at Santa Monica High School. “I was in the fourth grade at Franklin Elementary School [in Santa Monica] when we had a three to four-hour lockdown because of the shooting at Santa Monica College. I remember doing lockdown drills. That fear runs my life.”

This time, the stakes are higher for students at Santa Monica High School who chose to walk out of class on Friday. “The school administration was in support of the walkout on March 14, but we didn’t walk off the campus,” Yamashiro said. “We gathered on the field.” This time, they plan to walk out of class and march to Santa Monica City Hall, where they will be joined by students from several area high schools who will be walking or driving to city hall.

“We thought about protesting in front of the Federal Building [on Wilshire Boulevard],” said Lorenzo De Los Reyes, a senior at University High School, which is located on Texas Avenue between Barrington and Westgate Avenues. “But we thought Santa Monica City Hall would be best because it’s more legislative and we wanted to use city hall as a platform.”

In addition to planning for counter-protestors, finalizing the schedule of speakers, and deciding on what type of food to order, the small group of student activists discussed the potential consequences at their respective schools for walking out of class on Friday and leaving campus.

“They haven’t said we can’t walk out,” De Los Reyes said, referring to his school’s administration. “They’re just worried about our safety. They said, ‘Once you step off campus, we’re no longer liable for you.’”

Aislinn Russell, a sophomore at Crossroads, wondered about her First Amendment rights as a student at a private school. “The dean is fine with it as long as parents sign us out and we get a slip from the school and give it to the guards who will let you out,” she said. “But I’m not sure how it’s all going to work.”

Yamashiro said she attended a recent meeting of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) to ask the school board a question. “I needed to know that kids, knowing the consequences for walking out, will be able to physically leave the campus,” she said. The board was not able to answer her at the time, but later notified Yamashiro that the school would not prevent students from leaving campus, but that it would be marked as an “unexcused cut” on their attendance records.

On April 19, SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Ben Drati issued an official message stating, “[W]hile we honor and respect student rights for freedom of speech and civil disobedience…SMMUSD schools are not sanctioning, coordinating or facilitating any activities for April 20th.”

Meanwhile, planning continued for the walkout and protest at Santa Monica City Hall “to stand up for our human rights and advocate for gun reform,” according to LASAC’s Facebook page.

“I’m transgender and I’m going to be talking about how gun violence affects the LGBTQ+ community, particularly the transgender community,” Gawne said. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die while in school. I don’t want to get shot anywhere I go because I have the audacity to be trans. I don’t want anyone else to be shot because they aren’t white, or because they’re poor.”

Other speakers will be addressing school shootings and police brutality, among other topics. Gawne said they are still finalizing the schedule of events for the protest at city hall.

“This whole thing is impromptu,” said Camille Hannant, a senior at Santa Monica High School who is dual enrolled at Santa Monica College. “We’re teenagers. We have homework, and sports, and chores, but we’re still making time for this.”

This story is published as part of a partnership between the SMC Corsair student newspaper and The Daily Press.