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Dozens of Waukesha North High School students stand in solidarity for National Walkout Day

Posted at 1:41 PM, Mar 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-14 18:24:34-04

WAUKESHA -- They may not have had the same turnout as some of the other Milwaukee area schools, but the organizers of the Waukesha North High School walkout were pleased with the result.

"I was really, really surprised," Taylor Lehto, a junior at the high school said. "I was the only one to get up in my English class. I looked at my peers who said they'd do it and they just kind of nodded and got up with me. We walked into the atrium and there were already 20 kids there. It was very powerful."


Lehto was one of a few dozen students who participated in the walkout and 17 minute moment of silence. She and another friend were among the few who organized the entire event at the school. 

The National Walkout received some backlash from the School District of Waukesha after a local mother was promoting it on Facebook. The District sent a memo to parents saying they were not affiliated with the walkout, nor would the participate. However, they did say students were welcome to participate as long as they had written permission from their parents. Those without a note who participated would face the same disciplinary action as a student skipping class.

The school also offered an assembly for students wishing to pay respects to the students killed at Stoneman Douglas last month. 

But for some students, the message was worth any reprimand they'd receive. 

"We're not just going to settle down over a compromise and be silenced," Lehto said. "Our voices matter and they need to matter and continue to matter so we can continue these movements to make change."

"We have to speak out for the people who can't," Emily McMeans, another junior said. "What happened in the wake of the Parkland shooting, survivors weren't complacent. They stepped into action right away and they told us what they wanted the nation to do to help and support them. So we're taking their movement and running with it."

McMeans posted a video on her Facebook on Tuesday night as she painted signs with the names of the victims from the shooting and their corresponding ages. Most of which were her age or younger. It's what helped her connect with this shooting and want to stand up for change. 

"I don't think of it as a disruption," McMeans said. "I would rather walk out and call for this change than to have to sit through a school shooting. I have three little sisters. This is why I'm doing it. This has gotten attention obviously, and that's what it was designed to do."

"Going to school, you can ask anyone," Lehto said. "You'll sit in class and think, what would I do if someone came in, like an active shooter situation, what would I do? We shouldn't have to think like that. This is school."

Lehto's father was in attendance and shared a tearful embrace with his daughter after the protest. He tells TODAY'S TMJ4 he's incredibly proud of his daughter for standing up in something she believes in. 

"My dad called it beautiful how it was," Lehto said. "It just kind of all hit me there and why I'm doing this. For the 17 people who lost their lives. It's really overwhelming."

Both girls, who share aspirations of running for political office as they grow up, are still two years away from being legally allowed to vote and when that day comes, March 14, 2018, will be a distant memory. However, today's protest is something they want to hold on to and remind their peers to keep the momentum going. 

"The progress of this movement needs to be kept up through the students because that's what's going to [make] change," McMeans said. "Unfortunately, the reality is, this will continue to happen until there is an effective change. I don't think this will necessarily have to be brought up. Unfortunately, we will have more tragedies to talk about in the next few years to keep people interested to vote and to get people into office that will actually want to commit to change."