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Central Coast students take part in national school walkouts calling for gun control

Central Coast high school students joined their cohorts around the nation Wednesday in organizing walkouts to support gun control and protest gun violence.

At Morro Bay High School, about one-third of the student body participated, leaving classrooms around 9:30 a.m. and walking out to the south edge of campus and Atascadero Road.

Several local adults gathered to support the students, holding their handmade signs and cheering on the speaker; a festive and ernest atmosphere prevailed. Mid-way through the rally, a policeman parked his SUV closer to the crowd so that the students could use the vehicle’s loudspeaker.

Crowd chanting: “They say tougher gun law do not decrease gun violence. We call BS! BS! They say a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. We call BS! BS!”

“I first heard about the walkout on social media, and I thought this is a movement that is important, and this is something that is going to gain momentum, and I need to start it at my school,” said 16-year-old Alexa Ford, who co-organized the event at Morro Bay High School.

A local Catholic priest, Father Ed Holterhoff, turned out to support the Morro Bay students. He said he hopes the students’ activism will prompt gun reform.

“It’s not about rights, because we gave up our rights for security in airports,” Holterhoff said. “So no one seems to mind that, but when it comes to guns, all of sudden it’s my rights. I don’t think you can have it both ways.”

Elsewhere on the Central Coast, students rallied or walked out of dozens of high schools Wednesday morning.

The only reported problems across the region focused around a menacing social media post that spurred officials to place high schools in Atascadero and Santa Maria in lockdown mode prior and during the planned nationwide demonstration.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office said around 9:30 Wednesday morning, police learned of a social media post threatening violence on campuses during the walkout, so officials placed Santa Maria high schools Righetti and St. Joseph on lockdown mode.

According to the sheriff’s office, it turned out the threat was the same that prompted Atascadero school officials to go into lockdown. Atascadero police said they learned that a minor posted a threat on social media to students there. Less than 15 minutes later, they were at the minor’s home and arrested him, according to a release distributed a few hours later.

Atascadero police said they confirmed the minor acted alone and allowed the high school to return to normal operations, and the minor was booked into the San Luis Obispo Juvenile Services Center.

Now we go to Santa Maria, where KCBX's Tyler Pratt headed...

Santa Barbara County’s Pioneer Valley High School sits right up against acres and acres of Santa Maria farmland. At 9:55 a.m. Wednesday morning, the interior of the campus was mostly quiet. Just a few students lined up by stage built into the school’s main quad. They held orange paper cutouts in their hands.

“It’s a puzzle piece. It’s one of the girls who died in the Parkland shooting,” said student Faith Gonzalez. “We’re gonna go read them on the stage. And then say who they were and then connect the puzzle piece together.”

But just before 10 a.m., students streamed out of their classrooms. Some appeared a bit timid, not quite sure what to expect. A few students held signs denouncing gun violence. Orange ribbons were quietly handed out.

“I walked out of class today because of the 17 lives that were taken away pure acts of violence, said Andrea Chavez, who stood in the corner of the quad’s performance space with her friends. “I don’t think it’s right that Congress isn’t doing anything. And I believe that there needs to be a drastic change.”

Students and a couple of faculty walked out one-by-one on stage and read off their pieces of paper. Instead of the students walking off campus, the Pioneer Valley administration said they worked with students to create an event that kept them on school grounds.

“Honestly, if they leave campus it’s more unsafe than than if they stay on campus,” said Lisa Walters, Activities Director at Pioneer Valley. “So we wanted to provide a safe place for them to come. We had about half of our student body, I would say, maybe a little more.”

Students who did not participate remained in their classrooms.

As can be sometime expected at a student-run event, there were a couple of hiccups. During junior Jenna Santana’s singing performance, her backing track cut out suddenly. There were a few moments of awkward silence as the students looked at each other, wondering what to do. But then Santana just kept singing and finished the song a capella, while the students and faculty applauded.

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