After she learned that 19 students and two teachers were shot and killed at a Texas elementary school last week, Muna Jayllani, a senior at Franklin High School, immediately thought of her two elementary school-aged siblings. 

“It’s really concerning to allow them to be sitting ducks for whoever decides to purchase another assault gun and take more lives,” Jayllani said.

It’s why she decided to show up at a student-led rally Wednesday at Seattle City Hall to call attention to the need for mental health specialists at every school — specialists who could help students come to grips with the anxiety and fear caused by mass shooting events.

“You look back and you realize, ‘I’m really desensitized,’ and I think that’s the saddest part at this point,” said Sebastian Pallais-Aks, a senior at Lincoln High School. “You’re sitting there and feeling so emotional and you’re also thinking, ‘Wait, 19 [children] just died — how am I able to get up and go to school? What has happened to this world where I can still do that?’”

The Wednesday rally was followed by a walkout Thursday at Roosevelt High School, when more than 100 students walked out of class to demand stricter gun regulations.

“It’s not just in Texas or in other states, it’s everywhere,” said Talia Gosline, a ninth grader at Roosevelt. 


The students marched to the University of Washington’s Red Square, where they held a 15-minute period of silence for the victims of the Texas school shooting. In addition to a mental health specialist at every school, they also asked for a ban on assault weapons in Washington.

Roosevelt student Esmae Nelson said they feel lucky to live in a state with stricter gun laws than most, but added “guns are still out there. Lack of supports for students is still out there. The fact that it [a shooting] can still happen is always in the back of your mind.”

Added fellow Roosevelt student Levi Johnson: “I felt scared to go to school, and targeted.”

Since the beginning of this school year, students have been demanding the district hire more psychologists and mental health experts to help them manage pandemic-related stress, anxiety and fears around threats of violence directed at schools. The Texas shooting has only made things worse. 

They want mental health experts who can speak not only about mental trauma associated with gun violence but any other traumatic events, depression or anxiety students are experiencing, said Charlotte Swapp, a ninth grader at Roosevelt. 

Students are also asking for a diverse group of mental health experts that reflects the student population.


But school officials say that even if they had the money, the professionals are in short supply.

“The ability to hire and retain mental health professionals has become more difficult since the pandemic,” said Tina Christiansen, Seattle Public Schools spokesperson. “There are just not enough trained mental health professionals in the greater community. This is especially true of mental health professionals of color.”

For the next school year, the district will have 62 psychologists, about 21 social workers and about 133 guidance counselors to serve its 50,000 students at 106 schools. This past school year the district used emergency relief funds to hire social workers to provide mental health services and support at 12 elementary schools that didn’t have this staff before, reaching about 3,500 more students, Christiansen said.

All Seattle elementary schools have at least a part-time school guidance counselor and social worker, Christiansen said. All middle and high schools have counselors. The role of guidance counselors is to make sure students are supported and have the skills for college, careers and life after graduation. 

But it’s unclear what it would take to meet student demands to have a psychologist or mental health expert at every school.

At the City Hall protest, students also asked Gov. Jay Inslee to hold a special legislative session to ban all semi-automatic weapons. 


“Every day, we’re walking into a school building and we have the likelihood that we might be shot,” said Sydney Walter, a 17-year-old Nova High School senior and organizer of the rally.

“That’s a terrifying likelihood, and yet every single day we are still asked to come back,” Walter said.

A special legislative session is not currently being considered, said Mike Faulk, spokesperson for Inslee’s office. “Our office certainly empathizes with students’ concerns about mental health and broad access to deadly weapons.”

Last week in a Twitter post, Inslee called on Congress to pass stricter gun laws and touted the legislation Washington has already passed, including universal background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines, ghost guns and bump stocks.

Before Lincoln High reopened, Pallais-Aks recalled, architects emphasized the benefits of having a secured fence around the building. 

“That was basically a euphemism for, ‘We’ve got an active shooter fence around the school,’” Pallais-Aks said. “That’s a reminder that that fence is our active shooter fence because we live in a society where there are semi-automatic weapons and there are people that have access to them that can come in and kill us whenever they choose.”


Students shouldn’t have to sit in a building designed to prevent massacres, Pallais-Aks said.

These aren’t the first rallies students have organized this year advocating for stronger safety protocols in schools. And even though there have been no deadly shootings in Seattle-area schools this year, threats and lockdowns have become commonplace.

In November and December, after a school shooting in Michigan, some Seattle schools shut down and others went on lockdown because of threats of violence. Multiple students were arrested and one was charged with felony harassment for threatening to kill and false reporting. 

In response, some teachers held sickouts to take time to process the uptick in threats of violence directed at schools.

In January, Seattle students rallied in front of district headquarters to advocate for stronger safety protocols.

The Seattle Education Association is calling on members of the teachers union to wear red Friday as part of a day of action against gun violence. The national group March for Our Lives is planning simultaneous marches across the country on June 11.


Roosevelt High social studies teacher Jordana Hoyt said there are noticeable differences between now and when she watched kids walk out of school after the 2018 shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Hoyt said that more high schoolers organized and protested in 2018, perhaps because the Parkland students were also high school students. But then she shared another observation: “I think that some have lost that sense of excitement that they can really change things.”

“They really thought that things were going to change in 2018,” she said. “There’s a serious sense of hopelessness now.” 

Hoyt said she’s proud to see that some of the younger students haven’t lost hope. 

She said she sees how this recent spike in mass shootings has increased stress and anxiety among students at the end of an already fraught school year. 

“I truly wish I was trained in counseling,” said Hoyt. “I’m not, but it’s a good deal of what I do.”

Reporter Jenn Smith contributed to this story.