More than 200 Riverview Gardens High School students walked out Tuesday morning to protest gun violence and call for stricter gun control, but they fear they will be punished by the district for doing so.
Students left the high school around 10 a.m. and walked to the intersection of Shepley Drive and Bellefontaine Road, bearing signs with messages including, “Is your semi-automatic worth my life?” and “Teachers don’t need guns!”
Student leaders of the protest said they want background checks for all gun sales, a ban on bump stocks, and other gun control measures.
“There’s no reason a 19-year-old boy should’ve been able to purchase an AR-15,” said Kenidra Woods, a 17-year-old junior who helped organize Tuesday’s protest. She was referring to Nikolas Cruz, the suspect charged with killing 17 people in a Parkland, Fla., school shooting. The shooting has launched other walkouts across the country aimed at stricter gun control.
Last week, students at Clayton High School held a walkout, and Parkway Central High students held a news conference about their concerns after school.
Riverview Gardens officials told students that they would not be allowed to come back onto campus to complete the rest of the school day after walking out. Officials also said they would not be allowed to ride school buses home.
Some students tried to return to school but were blocked from entering the campus by school officials.
Many students also said that, as they were walking out, they were told by school officials that they would be suspended.
“We should be able to have a peaceful protest without getting in trouble,” said Destiney Young, a 14-year-old freshman who walked out.
Students were told this despite claims by the district administrator supervising the walkout that Riverview Gardens supports students’ First Amendment rights to protest.
“The district stands on allowing students to use their voices,” said Chaketa Riddle, assistant superintendent of schools, who was watching the students’ off-campus protest.
Superintendent Scott Spurgeon and school officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Tracy Cross, a parent of a junior who walked out, attended the protest because she supports her daughter’s action and believes that “something needs to be done” about gun violence. After the walkout began, she said she received an automated voice message from a school official warning that students who participate in the walkout could face disciplinary consequences. Cross said her daughter should not be suspended.
“I think it’s wrong, and they will hear from me,” Cross said.
In addition to seeking gun control measures, several Riverview Gardens students said they believe their own high school is not safe enough. They want the school perimeter to be secured with higher fences, and some said they’re willing to have metal detectors in their high school to keep them safe.
J.B. Forbes of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.