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Downers Grove South students organizing walkout

Students at Downers Grove South High School are planning to participate in the Enough: National Student Walkout on March 14.
Students at Downers Grove South High School are planning to participate in the Enough: National Student Walkout on March 14.

DOWNERS GROVE – Students at Downers Grove South High School are planning to participate in the Enough: National Student Walkout on March 14.

The 17-minute national event, in honor of the 17 individuals killed Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is being organized by Empower, the Women's March youth branch.

Kelly Jankowski, a junior from Darien, is one of four students organizing the walkout at the school.

“We started a Twitter account and started spreading the news,” Jankowski said. “We’re doing a lot through social media.”

The plan calls for students to walk out of classes at 10 a.m. and proceed around the South campus at 1436 Norfolk St. Students, many who will carry signs, plan to gather near 63rd Street to attract the attention of passing traffic, Jankowski said.

“It’s only supposed to last 17 minutes,” she said.

South students are rallying around the call to social activism driven by a desire for stricter gun control laws and safer schools, Jankowski said.

“It really impacts us,” she said. “Our safety is at stake here.”

The initial focus of the walkout was to promote a weapons ban, but “a lot of people disagreed,” Jankowski said. As a result, organizers shifted the focal point to stricter background checks for individuals attempting to buy a firearm, she said.

The protest also is designed to encourage residents in Community High School District 99 to vote March 20 in favor of the district’s capital improvements referendum, which includes safety enhancements at both Downers Grove North and South high schools.

So far, there are no plans for a walkout at Downers Grove North, Jankowski said.

Not all students are in favor of the walkout or plan to participate, she said. Additionally, some teachers have said the walkout will not accomplish anything, Jankowski said.

She said organizers are disappointed by the lack of support from some teachers.

"The whole point of this is to show how students can have an impact," Jankowski said. "This is something students are leading. It's really cool thinking we can make history."

District 99 administrators have voiced support for students’ right to protest.

“Students choosing to walk out of school during school hours will be encouraged to achieve their goals in the safest and least disruptive way, such as by congregating in a safe area, away from traffic,” Superintendent Hank Thiele said in a letter to parents.

Students will not be disciplined for engaging in an act of protest, he said.

“Students have the right to protest,” Thiele said. “We respect this right, while also maintaining a caring and safe environment for all students, regardless of their views.”

The protest took on greater significance after a rumor spread on social media about potential violence during a Feb. 23 spirit assembly at Downers Grove South.

School officials do not believe there was a credible threat to the school, Principal Ed Schwartz said in a statement.

But many students did not attend school Feb. 23, Jankowski said.

Jill Goodman, the Downers Grove resident who organized the Feb. 18 vigil at the Downers Grove Main Street train station in response to the Florida school shooting, was encouraged by the students' decision to participate in the walkout.

"I think it's absolutely wonderful, especially here," said Goodman, whose daughter attends Downers Grove North. "They're the future. They're who count."

Goodman is waiting to receive a village permit to hold a march on March 24 in support of the March for Our Lives event in Washington D.C.,  a rally for increased gun control and school safety measures.

If approved, the Downers Grove march would begin at Downers Grove North and proceed to the Main Street train station.

"It's an opportunity for students," Goodman said. "We want to give them a platform."

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