UPDATE, 11 a.m., Wednesday
Students from around New Orleans conducted a walkout Thursday in protest of gun laws and to honor the 17 people killed during a mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida last month.
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Watching news coverage of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, school last month, 17-year-old Olivia Keefe, a junior at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans, felt she needed to do something.
The next day, as she listened to survivors from the Florida school calling for action in the form of a national student walkout, she texted her friend, Louise Olivier.
“Do you want to do something like this?” she asked.
And when they got in touch with Ben Franklin's Student Council, they discovered they weren't alone in feeling they needed to act. The planning was already underway.
On Wednesday, one month after the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Keefe and Olivier will be among hundreds of students around the New Orleans area expected to leave their classrooms in protest.
Scheduled for 10 a.m., the protest coincides with a national event intended to honor the victims of the Feb. 14 shooting and push for tighter gun restrictions.
Students across the country plan to stay out of class for 17 minutes to commemorate the 17 students and staff members who were killed in the Parkland massacre.
“We have a voice,” Keefe said in an interview on her school lunch break. “There are all these people connected in our generation on social media. We’re able to have these types of online relationships.”
According to Empower, the group organizing the walkout nationwide, participating New Orleans schools include Lusher Charter School, New Orleans Math and Science High and the NET Charter High School.
Students from Homer Plessy Community School, Benjamin Franklin High and John Ehret High School, in Marrero, also plan to participate. Tulane University and University of New Orleans students have said they'd also join.
Empower, which is the youth branch of the Women’s March, said more than 2,500 school walkouts are planned across the country.
Among their demands, participants want Congress to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks before gun sales and allow courts to take guns away from those who display warning signs of possible future violent behavior.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans said all local Catholic schools have been asked to hold 17 minutes of prayer — one minute for each victim — beginning at 10 a.m. It will begin with a rosary, followed by Our Family Prayer, the archdiocesan prayer against violence, murder and racism.
Response from Congress has been mixed so far, with plenty of lawmakers showing resistance to stricter gun laws.
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, the Republican from Jefferson Parish who was badly wounded in a mass shooting in June by a man with a rifle, said he’s in favor of closing loopholes in the country’s system for background checks but is against a ban on weapons like AR-15s.
“Millions of people have weapons like the AR-15 and use them to defend themselves,” Scalise said in a statement. “They have it for self-defense, which is the tenet of the Second Amendment, so that's one of the things that you've got to balance when you're looking at change in laws.”
School district reactions to the planned walkouts have been mixed, too. Many schools are not only allowing students to walk out of class but are providing additional security to make sure protests are orderly and safe, according to CNN. Other administrators and officials around the country have objected to the disruption and threatened to punish students who participate.
Heather Harper, a spokeswoman for the Greater New Orleans Collaborative of Charter Schools, confirmed Tuesday that students from Lusher and Sci High will be participating in Wednesday's walkout.
Teachers at both schools will supervise students who choose not to participate, Harper said. Staff and security will be situated around the entire block, and an additional police officer will be on site during the demonstration.
"The role of the schools has been one of a partner, to ensure that students are both supported and safe," Harper said.
She said the Ben Franklin walkout will be a student-only event in the school's courtyard.
The Jefferson Parish school system issued a statement Tuesday saying that it will not prevent students from walking out or punish them if they do.
"The (acting) superintendent and central office leadership team met with principals to offer guidance as to how to protect students' First Amendment rights while ensuring campus safety," the statement said. "Schools are prepared to provide supervision to students who elect to participate and those not participating in tomorrow's planned activities."
The Orleans Parish School Board said it had "requested that individual school leaders discuss the situation and work with the student leaders on their campuses."
The next planned rally against mass shootings, dubbed the “March for Our Life,” is set to take place in Washington, D.C., on March 24.
Organizers in New Orleans, including local students, the Apex Youth Center and a local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, plan to gather that day at Washington Square Park in Faubourg Marigny.
Their Facebook page, where 2,000 people have expressed an interest in attending the event, says, “We are a group of New Orleans students disgusted by the government's lax enforcement of gun regulation.”