Austin Marsman speaks to Tech Center and Lake Michigan College students during National School Walkout day. Superintendent Bill Brown supported the movement. (Photos by Virginia Ransbottom)

Allegan tech center joins Walk-out Day

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

Allegan County Area Technical and Education Center students joined a nationwide walkout March 14 to demand Congress advocate for stricter gun laws and to show solidarity for the students killed and traumatized from the shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Students from the tech center and Lake Michigan College Allegan Campus gathered around the flagpole for 17 minutes, representing each of the 17 students and teachers killed in the shooting one month ago.

The walkout was organized by Austin Marsman, a tech center and LMC student as well as Martin senior class president.

Marsman was joined by Allegan Area Education Service Agency superintendent Bill Brown. They both thanked the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office for their partnership to increase police presence in schools for the safety of students. Sheriff patrol cars ringed the perimeter.

Brown praised students for organizing in a safe and respectful manner, coordinating with administration to advocate for what they believe in.

“We’re sending a message that Allegan County is not waiting around for change,” Brown said.

Marsman said, “Our mission today is to make sure that our lawmakers and other officials know... we care about our safety, we want something done about it and we want something done now.”

Marsman said as young people, they don’t get why it is harder to make plans with friends on the weekend than it is to buy an AR-15 at the local gun shop.

“Today, we demand stricter, more thorough, and more modern background checks,” he said. “Why is it so controversial to make sure people who shouldn’t have guns don’t get them? To me, this idea sounds like common sense.”

Marsman said he hoped the new school safety initiative with the sheriff’s department would build positive relationships across the county in addition to security and also acknowledged the work administrators are doing across the county to keep schools safe.

“It is comforting to know that we have your support today,” he said.

Marsman told students there is something they can do today to prevent horrible acts of violence in schools.

“It starts with us—we must reach out to everyone so that not one person feels isolated or alone, we must invite them over to play basketball, do homework, or go out to eat; we must make them feel welcome,” he said. “While lawmakers debate a solution, we must do our part by building each other up with encouraging words.”

With many students at the Tech Center at or near the voting age, Agenda Domsitz of Allegan said they are the next generation, the voice of the people and the people who can change things.

“While politicians do nothing, we will look down on them,” Domsitz said. “We should be scared of test scores, not guns.”

Amber O’Connell of Wayland said she didn’t necessarily want a ban on guns, but to expand background checks.

“I don’t want to go to school wondering if I’ll ever see my family again,” O’Connell said choking back tears.

Others held signs to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines; expand and modernize background checks; enact common sense school safety measures; fund government research on gun violence; pass federal gun violence restraining order; and promote safe storage of guns.

The movement did not end on March 14. A “March for Our Lives” protest is planned for Saturday, March 24.

Started by survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the main event is in Washington, D.C. with satellite marches planned across the United States, including Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids and Beery Field in Douglas at 11 a.m.

Another observance will be April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.

Superintendent Brown said the Tech Center walk out was a perfect opportunity to teach how to be a productive member of society while advocating peacefully for what you believe in.

“I am so proud of their leadership,” he said.

Brown said the school is not only working with law enforcement for a stronger police presence, but collaborating with mental health services and other agencies to help with school safety.

Entryways of buildings are being changed so when security locks are unlocked, visitors must enter through the office instead of directly into the school building.

“This was already in place at Hillside and the system worked when an intruder who entered the grounds was allowed into the vestibule, unable to gain entry, until police escorted them off the property,” he said. 

The school was briefly on lockdown until the person was escorted away.

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