Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Some Baker High School students plan to participate in a nationwide event Wednesday by walking out of their classes for 17 minutes to honor the 17 people killed on Feb. 14 at a Florida high school and to advocate for more stringent gun control laws and improved school safety measures.

The National School Walkout demonstration is planned for 10 a.m.

Eva Jones-Bedolla, a 17-year-old senior at BHS, said she discussed the national event with a classmate recently.

“It seemed like something we needed to do, to recognize the victims and advocate for gun safety,” Jones-Bedolla said Thursday.

She said she talked with BHS Principal Greg Mitchell about the planned walkout.

“We honor their right to free speech and the freedom to express themselves,” Mitchell said. “At the same time, we have to conduct school as usual.”

It’s not known how many students will participate in the walkout.

Jones-Bedolla said she intends to try to solicit interest among her classmates early next week.

Mitchell said that although school staff won’t interfere with students who choose to leave their classes, he prefers they remain inside the building.

However, Jones-Bedolla said she is asking students who participate in the walkout to gather at the BHS track, just north of the school.

She said she understands that Mitchell wants students to remain inside the school, but she believes that “defeats the purpose” of the walkout.

Jones-Bedolla said students will remain on school property and will return to their classes after 17 minutes have elapsed.

Mitchell said he was aware that students in schools across the country have planned to coordinate their demonstration to coincide with the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“We’ve been aware this has been on the radar,” Mitchell said. “This isn’t a secret, obviously.”

Mitchell said he hadn’t decided how to document any students who choose to leave their classrooms on Wednesday. But when students at a previous school where he worked participated in a similar event, they were marked as tardy for the particular class that they left temporarily.

“Certainly we’re not looking to be punitive to students,” Mitchell said. “We want to get them back in class as soon as possible, but we’re not talking about imposing discipline.”

Jones-Bedolla said she plans to focus on honoring the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland.

She emphasized that although she advocates for laws that reduce the risk of mass shootings, she is not calling for banning guns.

“Gun control doesn’t equal a gun ban,” she said.

Jones-Bedolla said she endorses laws that make it more difficult for people with mental illness from obtaining a gun.

At the same time the student walkout is scheduled, a group of local residents intends to demonstrate near the Baker School District office at the corner of Fourth and Broadway streets, said Gretchen Stadler, a member of the group.

Stadler, who has one niece attending Baker High School and another at Baker Middle School, said she expects from a dozen to 20 people to participate, many of them either parents or grandparents of local students.

“We want to march to support the students,” Stadler said. “We think it’s important for them to stand up for what they believe in.”

Stadler said the group decided to convene at the school district office rather than at the high school to avoid interfering with the school.

Stadler said she talked to Mark Witty, Baker School District superintendent, to explain the group’s plan.

Witty said he was pleased to have the advance notice.

“I really appreciate that Gretchen Stadler came to my office to let me know what they’re doing,” he said Thursday.

Witty said he in turn called Baker City Police Chief Wyn Lohner to alert him to the presence of pedestrians near the school district office on Wednesday.

Stadler said the group probably will walk a square circuit at the Fourth and Broadway intersection, crossing both streets in the crosswalks.

“We will obey all traffic laws,” Stadler said.

Witty, although he said the district is not “encouraging” students to join the walkout, echoed Mitchell’s comments about students’ rights to express themselves.

“People have a right to freedom of speech, and they don’t shed those rights when they come to school,” Witty said, citing the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District case.

In that 7-2 decision the nation’s highest court concluded that students’ constitutional rights continue when they are on school grounds.

Stadler said she supports legislative actions such as requiring waiting periods for people to buy guns, outlawing bump stock devices and several other measures that have been enacted or proposed.

She hopes the National School Walkout not only helps persuade lawmakers to approve new regulations, but that it also instills in students an appreciation for their rights, and obligations, as citizens.

“I am pleased that young people are finding their voice and taking action,” Stadler said. “If they are active as students they’re going to be engaged citizens who vote and participate in our democracy.”