'Books, not bullets,' Edison High students chant at Fresno Unified office
More than 100 Edison High School students left their classes Friday to protest gun violence as part of National School Walkout Day.
They walked more than two miles to the Fresno Unified District office on M and Tulare streets, with residents along the way cheering them on and drivers honking in support.
A Fresno Police Department vehicle followed the students. A person in the passenger seat could be seen filming the march.
The walk was held on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting that left 13 dead and 21 injured. The national walkout also ties in to February's shooting at a Florida high school that left 17 dead.
The official website of National School Walkout Day describes the effort as a movement to protest congressional, state and local "failures to take action to prevent gun violence." Over 2,600 schools participated.
Students arrived at the district office around 10:45 am, and began to chant "books not bullets."
The students then packed into the Fresno Unified board room to address their concerns to Superintendent Bob Nelson and Edison High School principal Joey Munoz.
Edison senior Reality Roland, one of the walkout organizers, said one out of every three students can't name a trusted adult they can approach about issues at home or school.
Roland connected the lack of a supportive atmosphere on campus to the violence she said her fellow students face every day.
"Why do kids have to walk to school every day worried they'll get shot?" Roland said.
Roland's speech drew cheers and applause from the gathered students.
Nelson listened to about half a dozen student speakers before addressing the room. He thanked the students for marching but said it's not in the school board's jurisdiction to remove guns from the campus.
His words drew a cry of "You've gotta start somewhere" from the crowd.
Other speakers also told Nelson their school needs more counselors, not more police officers.
Student Jemad Easley asked Nelson and the crowd to picture what it's like for him to walk down the street in the dark, knowing that being a black man and wearing a certain color makes him a target.
"It's hard for us wondering if we're going to live or die," Easley said.
After Nelson spoke, Easley said he didn't feel the superintendent had heard the students.
"I don't think they cared," he said.
Edison High student Marsha Muhammad said she and many of her classmates were missing tests in order to be at the walkout.
"But this is more important," she said.
Nelson later said he was not aware of the walkout until the students were well on their way to the district office. He said he was particularly moved by the statistic that students don't have a trusted adult to turn to for guidance and support.
"That's now how our instructors feel," he said. "There is clearly a gap between our expressed intention and what is happening."
Aleksandra Appleton, 559-341-3747, @aleksappleton