PARKLAND, Fla. -- Students all across the country -- from middle school to college -- began planned walkouts on Wednesday, calling on lawmakers in state legislatures and in Congress to enact stricter gun laws in the wake of the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
A month after 17 students and instructors were killed at the school here in Parkland, Fla., nearly 3,000 schools across the nation planned to leave class at 10 a.m. local time Wednesday for 17 minutes -- one minute for each victim.
At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, two walkouts were planned. Citing safety concerns, student government officials and administrators urged students not to leave campus, but to walk to the football field with teachers. Yet some students balked at the idea of a chaperoned walkout, saying they wanted to get off campus and spread their message to the broader public.
When the first bell rang Wednesday at the high school, Susana Matta Valdivieso was not sitting in Spanish class. Instead, the 17-year-old junior was hauling a stack of handwritten placards across a community park in the hope that her classmates would eventually come outside and join her.
"I'm nervous and excited because I've never spoken in front of a crowd of people before," Valdivieso said with laughter as she leafed through the speech she had typed up the night before.
While student government leaders and administrators were urging Parkland students to remain on campus and walk with teachers to the school football field, Valdivieso was hoping to coax students off school grounds to take part in a public rally at the nearby North Community Park.
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"This is a student-led movement," Valdivieso said after dispatching two close friends into the school with a plan to lead their classmates outside. "We want to communicate our message to the press and the public."
Organized by the youth branch of the Women's March, called Empower, the National School Walkout is urging Congress to take meaningful action on gun violence and pass federal legislation that would ban assault weapons and require universal background checks for gun sales.
In Massachusetts and Ohio, students said they'll head to the statehouse to lobby for new gun regulations.
With nearly 3,000 walkouts planned across the country -- at elementary schools, high schools and universities -- organizers published a "tool kit" online that offered students tips on how to organize, get support from parents and guardians and share information on social media.