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Region students are going to make their voices heard Friday. Many students from across the area are planning to participate in the Never Again National School Walkout.

Friday marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in which 12 students and one teacher were killed and comes about two months after 17 people were killed at a mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. That shooting sparked a national movement by students to address issues, including school safety and gun control.

Several students across the Region walked out of the classroom March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting. Then thousands of people across the country participated in the March for Our Lives rallies in several communities, including Valparaiso and Highland, on March 24.

One of the biggest gatherings Friday will be at Valparaiso's Central Park Plaza. About 500 or more students from Valparaiso, Chesterton, Kouts, Wheeler and Washington Township high schools are expected to participate in a rally at the downtown park.

"We wanted to consolidate because everyone is affected by the issue of gun control. It happens everywhere," said Andrew Smenyak, a Chesterton High School student and member of the school's Social Justice League.

"We are walking out at 10 a.m. and going to Central Park Pavilion in Valparaiso," said CHS student and Social Justice League member Jakob Kintzele. They are setting up a car pool or other transportation alternative to get the estimated 100 to 200 Chesterton students to Valparaiso, he said.

The assembly at the Valparaiso park will begin about 11 a.m. and will feature speeches and performances by students.

The Social Justice League also is sponsoring a listening session at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday at CHS in the school's auditorium. The session will feature a spokesperson of U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary; state Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes; and state Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, in a question-and-answer session with students.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the students will hold poster-making sessions and provide students access to register to vote during the school hours.

CHS Principal Jeff Van Drie said students who are participating in the walkout are to have parental permission to leave campus and will be marked with an excused absence.

Some schools and students across Lake County also will honor the victims of the Columbine shooting 19 years ago April 20.

Crown Point High School junior Sokhna Kelly said there is nothing planned at the school Friday, however, students are conducting a candlelight vigil that night in the Courthouse Square with different speakers.

"Our event is starting at 6:30 at the old courthouse and we’ll be walking to the fairgrounds, where another gun show will be held on Sunday," she said. "We plan on leaving price tags with the cost of a student’s life (based on new contributions) on the fence surrounding the fairgrounds."

Hobart schools Superintendent Peggy Buffington sent a letter to parents in March informing them about the upcoming student walkout days.

In her notice, Buffington said students would participate in activities to honor the memories of victims in the Parkland, Florida, shooting and the Columbine High School massacre.

The notice said administrators would permit students to participate in an onsite walkout without facing punishment if they remain on campus and follow school rules as they would follow the rules during any other school assembly.

"We respect and support the rights of our students to peacefully advocate for causes that are important to them," she wrote. "While this onsite walkout will occur ... at the high school, students who choose not to participate may carry on with study hall activities."

East Porter County School Superintendent Rod Gardin also sent a letter to parents saying though the April 20 walkout is not a school-sponsored event, students may participate in the demonstration in Porter County with the written permission of parents.

"Even though the demonstration on April 20 is not school sponsored and is not on school property, students need to be aware that behavior that violates state or federal laws may result in disciplinary consequences being imposed by the school corporation," he wrote.


Southlake County Reporter

Carmen is an award-winning journalist who has worked at The Times newspaper for 20 years. Before that she also had stints at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., The Post-Tribune and The News Dispatch in Michigan City.

Porter County Reporter

Joyce has been a reporter for more than 38 years, including 23 years with The Times. She covers municipal and school government in Valparaiso and Portage.