A group of O’Fallon Township High School students will lead the local end of a worldwide event on Saturday, March 24 as part of an effort to end school shootings and violence.
Members of the newly formed OTHS March For Our Lives chapter will be among the thousands of people hitting the streets that day as part of hundreds of events planned around the globe trying to bring an end to the killing.
“I’m tired of wondering and never knowing if it will come here next,” said Marcus Daniel, one of the student leaders who lifted the March For Our Lives O’Fallon chapter off the ground.
An OTHS senior, Daniel said he felt “mad” when he first heard the news of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. He and several of his classmates wanted to take their anger and transform it into something positive. That’s when they decided to form the March For Our Lives group.
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“It all started for us after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Florida. I talked to my friends, and we all agreed we should do something. We need to do something to support change, and now we have over 200 members in our group and about 150 on our text reminder list,” Daniel said.
Daniel said he wants make sure an episode like the one Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 17 people were killed never happens here, or anywhere else, ever again.
“We are all tired of seeing school shootings happen too much. We are becoming desensitized to the violence, and it’s a horrible thing,” Daniel said. “We shouldn’t have to worry about this — choosing between safety or our education.”
Daniel said there are a lot of people in the chapter who hold differing views on guns, gun control and gun violence, but a single truth has been the glue holding them together in solidarity.
“We are all coming together for school safety, and that shouldn’t be a political statement or an opposing side to this — everyone should be for school safety and that’s what we are fighting for,” Daniel said.
O’Fallon Police Chief Eric Van Hook said there’s no easy answer to solving the issue of school violence.
“School safety is a complex issue, and one that does not have a simple solution,” Van Hook said.
But, he said, any answer has to involve input and planning from people in all parts of the community. That’s why he applauded the students’ efforts.
“I think this shows a lot about the character of our students in that they not only want to be heard, but want to be an active part of finding solutions to these challenges,” Van Hook said.
O’Fallon Mayor Herb Roach said, if anyplace should be safe for children, it should be their schools.
“How can they concentrate on learning with fear on their minds? School is a place for safe learning, not dodging bullets,” said Roach, who called for a meeting on Wednesday, March 7 between O’Fallon school leaders, city leaders and police officials to “open the dialogue to keep O’Fallon students safe.”
“Just like these students who have organized this march, we know we have to also work together within our community, with our police and with our schools to create these safe spaces,” Roach said.
Daniel said there are some OTHS District 203 Board of Education members who are aware and in support of the march, but it is not school-sanctioned.
Tentatively, the group plans to start the march at the O’Fallon Family Sports Park in the middle of town.
“We’ve been in conversations with O’Fallon Police to coordinate the route for the march,” Daniel said. “We want to do this the right way, so everyone stays safe.”
The march will be sometime between 7 and 10 a.m., he said.
“The St. Louis, Mo., March For Our Lives event is from 10 a.m. to noon (from Union Station to the Arch) the same day, so we want to do ours before so we don’t loose people,” Daniel said.
March 14 National Student Walk-Out
There is another movement gaining momentum nationally and in the metro-east, which is a campaign for students everywhere to walk out of school on Wednesday, March 14. The plan calls for students to leave class 17 minutes to reflect on the 17 students and staff who lost their lives on Feb. 14 in Florida.
Daniel said he wants to participate, but fears retaliation by the district if he does.
“I will, if we are told there won’t be any repercussions from the schools,” Daniel said.
O’Fallon Township High School District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway said administrators have yet to decide whether the school will be involved in the March 14 national walk-out.
“We are in discussions but nothing has been decided yet,” Benway said.
O’Fallon School District 90 held special board of education meeting Tuesday to discuss the preparation for potential student walk-outs, which Superintendent Carrie Hruby said reeled in about 15 public attendees.
"The board discussed the topic and said we should expect students to stay inside for instruction during school session on March 14 for their safety. We ask staff and teachers to remain neutral on any political topics," Hruby said.
Hruby said she is unaware of any organized plans among students to participate, but at this time, the district will encourage families and students who express interest in activism to not participate during school hours, but rather on the weekend for other planned events.
According to Hruby, the district is sending a letter home to parents and guardians to update them on the situation.
Central School District 104 Joseph Arthur Middle School Principal Tron Young confirmed JAMS will not participate.
Shiloh School District 85 Middle School Principal Darin Loepker confirmed the school will also not participate.
Administrators from O’Fallon private schools, First Baptist Academy and St. Clare Catholic School, confirmed they also will not participate.
Robyn L. Kirsch: 618-239-2690, @BND_RobynKirsch