Sonoma County schools prepare for student walkouts

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Students across the North Bay will join a national school walkout Wednesday, marking one month since a deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Walkouts and memorials will be held at middle and high schools from San Rafael to Healdsburg — as well as around the country — as students honor the shooting victims and call for tougher gun control. Some are expected to last 17 minutes — a minute for each student and educator gunned down at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“It’s bringing awareness to Congress,” said Emma Ruderman, 17, a Santa Rosa High School senior. “We need stronger laws.”

She’s organizing the walkout at her school where students will gather in front of the main building off Mendocino Avenue after their second-period class. They’ll be waving signs at motorists on the busy thoroughfare.

As an advanced theater arts student in the school’s ArtQuest program, Ruderman is worried about getting detention. The walkout will take place during a break but might cut into third period. Still, she said, it’s important she and her classmates push for change when it comes to gun violence.

“It’s been feeling very personal,” she said, noting the recent series of violent threats scrawled on local campuses, including Santa Rosa High. While police didn’t find anything to indicate the threats were valid, Ruderman said they left students shaken.

“A lot of kids didn’t come to school,” she said. “It was really scary.”

More than 2,800 walkouts are planned across the U.S. and abroad. It’s unclear how many students will participate nationally in the walkout, organized by the Women’s March Youth branch.

Steve Mizera, Santa Rosa City Schools’ assistant superintendent of student and family services, said schools will track tardies and absences but won’t reprimand students as long as they participate peacefully.

“We’re not encouraging (school) sites to take disciplinary actions just on this one event,” he said.

Mizera said the district wants to support students’ rights to free speech and expression while balancing their safety.

Numerous schools will provide space on campus for students to rally. Ridgway High School students, for example, plan an art project and the release of eco-friendly balloons in honor of the Parkland shooting victims.

Elsie Allen High School students will gather in the school quad and form the number 17.

Schools also may show a video from Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, encouraging students to “stand up and speak out” against gun violence.

“I’m very encouraged about the outrage students are feeling about the Parkland shooting,” Mizera said. “This is an opportunity to engage students politically. One of the goals we work for in education is to have them be participants in democracy.”

In Windsor, at least three schools will have “walk-to” events on campus, where students will be able to honor the shooting victims and speak out against gun violence, said Lisa Saxon, the district’s education services director.

Windsor High and Windsor Middle School students, as well as the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Cali Calmécac Language Academy, will lead campus activities such as holding moments of silence and asking classmates to commit to 17 acts of kindness.

“We’re trying to do a walk-to environment, giving students a way to express themselves in a safe and supervised manner while remaining on campus,” she said.

Students won’t be reprimanded if they skip class to attend the events, Saxon said. But if they leave campus, “We will have to contact their parents.”

Dave Rose, Petaluma City Schools’ assistant superintendent of student services, said students could be marked truant if they miss more than 30 minutes of any class.

A first offense typically leads to a phone call to parents and possible detention, while students with a history of truancy may be referred to the school attendance review board for intervention.

At least three Petaluma schools — Kenilworth Junior High, Petaluma High and Casa Grande High — plan walkouts at 10 a.m. today, according to the Women’s March Youth website. Rose said other schools might join in, although it’s unclear how many students from his district will take part in the national walkout.

“Hopefully, it’ll be brief (and) be on campus,” he said. “Hopefully, students will return to class.”

Petaluma High School Principal David Stirrat said they’ll be monitoring if students walk off campus to ensure they’re safe.

“We don’t plan on any reprimands, but everything is dependent on what actually happens,” he said. “We are invested in students exercising their right to action under the First Amendment, provided the campus environment remains safe.”

You can reach Staff Writer Eloísa Ruano González at 707-521-5458 or On Twitter @eloisanews.

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