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Grand Forks students plan walkout to call for action on gun violence

Maia Jackson, 17, a senior at Grand Forks Central High School, and other high school students are organizing a walkout to promote gun safety, and to call on lawmakers to take action, in light of recent school shootings in other parts of the country.

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Maia Jackson, a senior at Grand Forks Central High School, is helping to organize a school walkout March 14 at 10 a.m. to promote stricter gun laws and to call on lawmakers to take action after the recent school shootings in the country. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Maia Jackson, 17, a senior at Grand Forks Central High School, and other high school students are organizing a walkout to promote gun safety, and to call on lawmakers to take action, in light of recent school shootings in other parts of the country.

The walkout, part of a nationwide effort to mobilize students, is planned for 10 a.m. March 14 at Grand Forks Central and Red River high schools, Jackson said.

Similar events are planned at 10 a.m., local time, in each time zone in the U.S., she said.

"I want to take part in a national movement that's bigger than one kid-bigger than me-that shows that we in Grand Forks and in North Dakota want our representatives to get the message, to pay attention," Jackson said.

"Because we can't vote, it's our political voice and we're using it for something that's nonpartisan," she said. "It's a universal cause to lower gun violence rates."

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The walkout is meant "to show our elected officials that we care," Jackson said. "It's not against the school."

In a statement provided to the Herald, Grand Forks Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nybladh said, "While students may have an interest in expressing their First Amendment rights, the public schools have a responsibility to assure there is no disruption to the educational process and that students are safely accounted for during the school day.

"Grand Forks Public Schools has established attendance policies in compliance with North Dakota state law," he said. "In accordance with the attendance policies, students are allowed to exit the school during the school day with parental permission."

'Exactly my age'

Survivors of school shooting events "have never been as vocal" as those in the recent Florida tragedy, Jackson said. "And they are exactly my age."

"Lawmakers need to hear from everybody-especially kids-and to know that we're going to vote," she said. "Students need to speak up, and to hold officials accountable. I don't think gun violence is talked about enough."

At Grand Forks Central, those who gather on the east lawn will hear a short talk by the Rev. Sarah Raymond, pastor of Walle, East Walle and Evanger Lutheran churches in rural Grand Forks.

At Red River High School, where seniors Floyd Althoff and Simi Kaur are also involved in the walkout plans, the crowd will hear Dave Berger, youth director at Sharon Lutheran Church. They will gather near the school entrance that faces Cushman Field, Jackson said.

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The speakers are expected to talk to students "about how their voices can be heard," and what they can accomplish, said Becky Ronkowski, of Grand Forks, who is helping to organize the event.

Jackson said students should be out of class for about 20 minutes.

The focus of the walkout is "coming together and asking for action from lawmakers," said Jackson, and "to draw attention to the issue (of gun violence). ... It's saying, 'We're watching. Do something.' "

Jackson is a member of the Grand Forks Youth Commission, a group organized by the City of Grand Forks to provide a youth voice to community issues and provide leadership opportunities to young people.

School shootings in recent months have created a groundswell "of young people wanting their voices to be heard," said Ronkowski, a member of the local Equal Rights for All group. "We want young people to find their voice and use their voice in a way that's positive."

The ERA staged an event at the Empire Arts Center in January to encourage voter participation in elections and women's involvement in political races, along with a July rally opposing the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Ronkowski said the March 14 event is meant to be peaceful and nonpartisan.

Student organizers are following guidelines posted online, from Neveragain.com, she said, adding that she hopes the public will also attend.

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Jackson said, "We're going to take pictures, turn them into postcards and send them to our representatives."

She wants those representatives "to get the message that, if guns and gun violence are not on their agenda, it should be."

As far as her personal safety in school, she said, "I feel like I haven't had to think about that, but what's happened really made me aware. I don't feel an immediate threat, but neither did the people at Parkland."

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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