More than a dozen Central High School students stood before several city, county and state elected leaders Thursday, including legislators, city council, county commission and school board members, in a packed school auditorium. They talked of their fears since the mass shootings in Parkland, Florida and in Newtown, Connecticut. A few referenced an incident at Central a few years back when a student dropped a backpack in the Central Commons, and a gun discharged. No one was injured. Most made pleas for common sense gun laws and for more mental health services for students that need them.
Central Junior Amaya Holdt said this is just the beginning of their fight for safer schools.
"This is not a threat. This is a promise that we will keep pushing until we can say, 'never again,'" Holdt said. "Never again will a parent be afraid sending their child to school. Never again need somebody live in fear going into a bar, a concert, a restaurant or a place of worship. Never again will an education cost a life."
Sixteen-year-old Gabe Fletchall is a gun owner, but he told those in attendance he finds "the viciousness of gun violence in this country extremely disturbing."
He pointed out the 11,000 gun-related homocides in the U.S. in 2016.
"There were more than 4500 Americans killed fighting a hostile enemy in Iraq. You now have to ask yourself, 'which place is the actual war zone?'" he said. "We have seen a severe failure of leadership in this nation on the issue of gun control."
Some called for more mental health services for students who are at risk of doing harms to themselves or others.
Eighteen-year-old Isaiah Shields talked about reaching out to a troubled student who had made a threat against their school.
"Me and him were talking one day and he told me that, 'no one loves me. No one cares about me. I get no attention at home.' He's always getting bullied at his school," said Shields.
He asked school officials in attendance at the forum to do something to help.
"Please. Make some more opportunities for students seeing more counselors," he said. "And we definitely need a therapist because students need this. And students just need to feel safe at school with bullying policies at schools."
Following the town hall, SPS board member, Charles Taylor, said he’d never been prouder of SPS students.
"Their conversation was everything the national debate was not," he said. It was informed. It was passionate. It was courteous. It was passionate in the right way, and it called us out."
He said adults will be held accountable by students who “have every right to be safe in their schools.”
Central History teacher, Scott Hardwicke, said seniors at Central asked him for help organizing the town hall so they could have a voice following the Florida school shooting that left 17 students and teachers dead.