Students from Littleton Public Schools joined their peers nationwide on Feb. 21, protesting for what organizers call a comprehensive approach to school safety that incorporates mental health care, …
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Students from Littleton Public Schools joined their peers nationwide on Feb. 21, protesting for what organizers call a comprehensive approach to school safety that incorporates mental health care, cultural change and gun-law reform in the wake of a Florida school shooting that left 17 dead.
“What we're trying to express is that we deserve to feel safe while we're trying to get an education,” said Turner DeShon, a Littleton High School senior who helped organize a pair of protests — a morning walkout followed by a trip to the state Capitol in Denver to join a larger protest.
“We're not pinning this issue on any one thing,” DeShon said. “We're advocating for awareness of mental health issues, and pushing for greater gun safety. Our group is still somewhat divided on precisely what we're trying to achieve, but we're hoping to get people rallying behind a push to end violence in schools. It will take comprehensive reforms.”
Dozens of LPS students walked out of the city's three high schools in the morning, and about 30 made their way downtown. Several shared their concerns with lawmakers.
“I hope people on the polarizing sides of this issue can compromise to achieve real solutions,” said Littleton High senior Kylie Griggs. “I want as much compassion and respect as possible to see a change in the culture. Mental illness needs to be less stigmatized. People who commit these crimes often feel isolated, and I want them to have easier access to care.”
Gun-law reform was on the students' minds as well, though that idea will take more time to be fleshed out, organizers said.
“We chose not to focus on the specifics of that today,” said LHS senior Anna Whitney. “I have my own beliefs that gun access may need to be more tightly controlled than it is now. After the Arapahoe shooting, it's an issue close to our hearts.”
A shooting by a student at Arapahoe High School in 2013 left one student dead and the gunman, also a student, dead by suicide.
Some protesters weren't convinced by one measure introduced in the state House that called for allowing teachers and other school employees to carry guns. House Bill 18-1037 would have allowed the permitted concealed carrying of handguns on the grounds of public elementary, middle, junior high or high schools in the state. It was struck down in a state House legislative committee on a 6-3 vote Feb. 21.
“The idea of putting more guns into schools seems absurd because that's the root of the problem,” said LHS senior Katie Trigg.
“I don't believe violence can be subdued with more violence,” said LHS senior Grace Reichardt. “That's an unrealistic expectation to have.”
Griggs said she would like to see more comprehensive background checks for gun purchases.
“Looking closer into someone's life might reveal red flags that should keep them from getting a gun,” Griggs said. “Also, I'd like to see people receive training before they can get a gun.”
DeShon said many of the students saw the walkouts and protest as a first step in a long-term effort.
“We want to use this momentum and awareness to derive change,” DeShon said. “We want students to contact representatives and share their views, and use this as a stepping stone for real reform.”
DeShon said several students are planning in participating in the national “March for our Lives” protest planned for March 24, as well as other planned events.
Littleton Public Schools respects students' rights to protest, said district spokeswoman Diane Leiker.
“While LPS doesn't endorse any particular viewpoint or advocacy group, we certainly support our students' rights to do so,” Leiker said. “If students choose to express their opinions, we want to work with them to provide a safe and orderly place for them to do so. These were student-driven expressions of free speech, and we respect that.”
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