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North Medford students head away from the school Friday as part of a protest against gun violence. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]

Medford students walk out for school safety

More than 100 Medford students protesting for gun control and school safety left their classrooms Friday to gather at U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley's local office, with some walking about three miles one way in below-freezing temperatures to get there.

"We should be able to feel safe at school," said Sara Klott, a senior at St. Mary's School.

Students across the country have been organizing marches and walkouts in response to a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. Most of those protesting here say they were inspired by the survivors of the Parkland shooting, who have been calling for change, including organizing a "March For Our Lives" March 24, to demand action on gun accessibility and school safety.

As the word spread through social media about Friday's walkout, which originated at North Medford High School, students from three Medford high schools joined in to help shape it. They wanted to do cheers. They wanted to help their classmates register to vote. They wanted to talk specific ideas for legislative reform with Amy Amrhein, Merkley's field representative for Southern Oregon.

Students stood at the intersection of Main and Central streets in downtown, holding signs that said,"Our streets are not war zones; gun control now," and "Fear has no place in schools."

A few times every minute, a passing driver honked a car horn in support, which was met each time by a cheer from the students.

Many are planning to demonstrate again in the future, although not necessarily during the school day, as they will receive unexcused absences for leaving class.

In coordination with a few local organizations, some are planning a local March For Our Lives. Brian Josephson, from South Medford High School and a co-founder of a group calling itself Students For Action, says he is looking at past bills introduced in the Oregon Legislature to create a ballot initiative addressing gun accessibility.

One example of a federal policy change that Students For Action supports, Josephson said, is repealing the Dickey Amendment, which prevents the Centers for Disease Control from using funds "to advocate or promote gun control."

"Now is a time when everyone on every side of the aisle can back these reforms to ensure that students are kept safe," he said.

Skylar Lynch, credited with launching today's event, said that although the turnout made her "really proud," there is still work to accomplish what she imagines.

"Doing one march is not going to change things," she said.

Meanwhile, Klott and her St. Mary's classmate Olivia King decided just the evening before that they wanted to join in a walkout demonstration organized by South and North Medford high school students and circulated on social media in weeks prior. They emailed the entire student body about their plan, and the next day a few dozen walked and took buses to join their peers.

Some students had tests later in the day, but Klott said those who came thought the demonstration was "a worthy cause."

Emma Empol, co-president alongside Josephson of South Medford's Young Democrats club, said the Medford School District informed students of a districtwide forum scheduled for March 13 to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting.

Students stayed downtown until about 1 p.m., then walked or drove each other back to their schools.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.

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