Students from several local schools in the area joined thousands of students across the nation who walked out of class today to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla. shooting and call for gun law reform and an end to gun violence.
Students from Chattanooga Arts and Sciences, Red Bank High School, Normal Park Museum Magnet and McCallie School braved the cold weather to stand on their schools' steps or front lawns.
How students spend the 17 minutes beginning at 10 a.m. varied - at CSAS two students sang a hymnal while 17 balloons were released into the sky, at McCallie much of the time was spent as a moment of silence and at Sequoyah High School, students signed a poster of support and solidarity that will be sent to Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
A group of students from a variety of schools, both public and private, have been meeting weekly to not only prepare for today's walkouts, but also for a march planned for March 24 and other efforts to call on elected officials to enact change.
"We need to come together and stop the gun violence that is seen in schools. And that's what the students of Chattanooga are doing," said Sileas Bathkop, a seventh grader at CSAS.
School officials have reacted in a variety of ways, with some sanctioning student walkouts, some coordinating the events themselves or planning alternate activities and some telling students outright that they will be punished for walking out.
Jim Boles, CSAS upper school principal, said he "had never been prouder" of his students.
"When I first heard about this on social media, I knew that our student would want to participate," he said.
The school's administration decided to support students and compromise on what how they wanted the event to go, for instance school officials wanted students to meet inside, but ultimately two thirds of the school's upperclassmen met on the school's front steps.
Dana Walden, a senior at CSAS, asked her classmates why they were there. She said "if you're like me, you're here because you're tired."
"Tired of coming to school scared," Walden said. "What occurred a month ago at Marjorey Stoneman Douglas High School, should never have been allowed to happen."
Walden called for more conversations about gun violence and gun laws, but also called on her peers.
"We might be high school and middle schoolers, but we have power...and soon we'll be able to vote and make real change," she said. "If you take one thing from this, it's you matter. Your voice matters."
At Dalton High School, where social studies teacher Jesse Randal Davidson fired a .38 out his classroom window two weeks ago, Principal Steve Bartoo told students this morning that they were not allowed to walk out of class at 10 a.m.
"It's important that you have a voice and be able to seek it," Bartoo told the students in an intercom message. "But it's also equally important that you do that in a way that is safe, that doesn't cause confrontation, is done in a respectful way. And so, that's why we're not going to be participating in some sort of a walk out."
He added: "Walking out of class is just not a good idea. It's hard for us to keep you as safe as we can in the building. It can cause a confrontation in some way, perhaps."
He said the student council is planning a forum on public safety. They have invited elected officials and other community leaders, and they have set a date for the forum. (Bartoo did not share the date in his message.)
Two students, who requested anonymity for fear that administrators would punish them, told the Times Free Press that teachers stopped them from walking out.
"There were teachers everywhere asking what we were doing and (not) to try to (walk out) and they would send us back to class before we even got close to the office," one student wrote in a message.
A second student wrote that when she tried to walk out, her teacher told her to take up the issue with the principal.
"She was saying it like a threat," the student wrote. "'If you walk out, you will get in trouble!'"
The students also told the Times Free Press that the school's public WiFI network was down this morning. One said they typically use that network for their phones, while they use a password-protected WiFI network for classwork on their laptops. Both students believed the public network was down to stop any protest.
"We couldn't communicate with our friends to plan on walking out," one wrote.
During his message this morning, Bartoo told students that the school would open the theater during lunch. Students could hold a moment of silence or pray, he suggested.
"Some of you may want to come up there and hug a new friend and meet a new friend," he said. "Those are all great ways in which to honor the situation that happened in Parkland and to honor those victims as well."