Courtesy of the Wilbur Cross Proclamation

Joining a nationwide demonstration, New Haven public school students walked out of their classrooms on Wednesday morning to protest gun violence.

To mark the one-month anniversary of the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, New Haven students across the district walked out of class for 17 minutes — one for each of the people killed in Florida — to call for stricter gun control legislation. Thousands of students in middle schools and high schools all over the United States held similar walkouts on Wednesday.

“We all joined together behind this issue because it affects all of us, not just at my school but everywhere in the nation,” said Grace Ozyck, a Wilbur Cross High School senior and student organizer. “We are tired of being the mass shooting generation. Something needs to be done to help this epidemic of gun violence.”

At 9:30 a.m., James Hillhouse High School held a brief assembly in which students shared poems and musical selections and discussed previous shootings. Teachers and officials also spoke at the assembly, comparing the walkout to the actions of Martin Luther King, Jr., according to Makayla Dawkins, a Hillhouse senior and a student representative on the New Haven Board of Education. After the assembly, the Hillhouse community marched for 17 minutes down Sherman Avenue, accompanied by the school marching band.

During the walkout at Wilbur Cross, 16 students performed speeches, songs and poems, according to Ozyck. Eamon Hill, a junior at Wilbur Cross, said the demonstration was about more than school shootings, as students shared stories about the broader problem of gun violence in their communities. Wilbur Cross Principal Edith Johnson praised the students’ efforts.  

“Students came to us with their energy around standing in solidarity with students in Parkland and with any students who have been affected by gun violence,” Johnson said. “We responded by making sure supervision was available to honor their student voice.”

Congress has not passed new gun legislation in the wake of the Parkland shooting. But in recent weeks, Connecticut legislators at both the state and federal levels have voiced support for tighter restrictions, including expanded background checks and a ban on bump stocks, devices that speed up the firing of semi-automatic weapons. Legislation passed in Connecticut after the December 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown created some of the strictest gun control laws in the country.

“I hope every person taking part in today’s demonstrations thinks seriously about how they can stay involved in this movement and demand that Congress enacts common sense guns laws to make sure that the daily violence that plagues our nation comes to an end,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said in a press release on Wednesday. “If you join this fight, I will be right there by your side.”

Last month, Gov. Dannel Malloy, along with the governors of New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York, formed a multi-state coalition against gun violence. In an effort to prevent residents from purchasing firearms in one state and transporting them to another, the states plan to share data and collaborate on strategy.

Outside New Haven, students in nearby towns like Branford and Guilford also staged walkouts on Wednesday.

Jayleen Flores, a senior at Branford High School who organized her school’s demonstration, said students do not want the movement against gun violence to end after the walkouts.

“We’re tired of being looked over and not taken seriously because we are students. It is not fair for a student to feel scared in class when a door opens,” Flores said. “We are here for an education, and as students, we will make change to make schools safer and make sure these tragedies stop happening.”

The March for Our Lives — a rally dedicated to student-led gun control activism — will take place in Washington, D.C. and other American cities on March 24.