Following the Parkland school shooting in Florida Feb. 14, there is no denying there’s been a raging national debate over gun control measures and school safety. As the student survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have spoken up, their actions have rippled outward creating a call for activism by students nationwide to have their voices and opinions on gun control heard. It has reached Long Island.
On March 14, the group Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is calling for students, teachers, school administrators and parents to walk out of schools for 17 minutes, in honor of the 17 Parkland victims, beginning at 10 a.m. The purpose of the protest, according to a website promoting it, is to shine a light on Congress’ “inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.” The walkout is being promoted on social media using the hashtag #ENOUGH.
“Our goal in responding to a planned student walkout is to keep our focus on teaching and learning, while at the same time providing students and staff with support in order to ensure the safety of all.”
— Brenden Cusack
Town of Huntington school districts and officials are weighing how the marches might play out here, with logistics and safety being of the utmost concern for administrators.
Huntington High School Principal Brenden Cusack sent out a letter to parents March 2 that clearly outlines the district’s stand on the upcoming walkout.
“While a school may not endorse a student walkout, Huntington High School respects our students’ constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Cusack said. “Our goal in responding to a planned student walkout is to keep our focus on teaching and learning, while at the same time providing students and staff with support in order to ensure the safety of all.”
The principal also stated that students who choose to participate in the March 14 event will not be given an excused absence and will not be permitted to make up any class assignments they miss. Walkout participants will be monitored by the high school’s security staff, according to Cusack, and given specific instructions regarding how to egress from the building and provided with a staging area. Students are expected to remain in compliance with the district’s code of conduct and are not permitted to leave campus.
“In these times of heightened emotion, I ask that you please speak with your children about their feelings on this topic and any plans they may have for expressing their viewpoints,” Cusack said.
Prior to the protest, the Huntington school district will be hosting a forum titled “How Can We Stop Mass Shootings in Our Communities?” on March 13 at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of Huntington High School. This student moderated forum is open to high school students, parents, family and community members “designed to engage in productive, respectful and meaningful dialogue.” Any students in attendance will be provided with community service credits, according to Cusack.
“In these times of heightened emotion, I ask that you please speak with your children about their feelings on this topic.”
— Brenden Cusack
School administrators in Elwood, Harborfields and Northport districts declined to comment on their plans for the walkout.
A second unconnected protest is being planned for April 20 to coincide with the anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The organizers of this event, simply called National School Walkout, are also calling for those in school buildings to stand up and exit at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes of silence, followed by an “open mic” session in which students will be encouraged to voice their opinions. The organizers of the walkout envision a day-long event.
“We’re protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occurred to stop that,” the website for the event reads. “The issue needs constant attention if we hope to change anything, so multiple events on multiple days is a productive way to help fight for our cause, a safer country.”
While the federal government deals with the political gridlock long associated with gun control, New York State is working on action to at least improve safety in the short term, though not to address gun laws.
“Every New Yorker and every American is outraged by the senseless violence that is occurring in schools throughout the country,” state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said in a statement Feb. 28.
The state Senate approved a series of bills March 5 that include more funding for security cameras, armed police officers or security personnel for districts that want it, panic buttons, active shooter drills, better emergency response plans, hardening of school doors and more. A package of gun control measures proposed by Senate Democrats was rejected.
With additional reporting by Alex Petroski