Local students are planning to join others across the nation to ensure the voices of young people are heard when it comes to protesting gun violence in America and advocating for gun control.
Ward Melville High School students hope to participate in the March 14 walkout at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes to remember the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The event would be held in conjunction with similar walkouts taking place in schools all over the United States.
“I believe it’s very important to be able to contribute to society because although we may not be able to vote until we’re 18, it’s still our country, and it’s still our future at stake. Students aren’t powerless, and we need to show other students that.”
— Maya Peña-Lobel
One of the student organizers, Maya Peña-Lobel, said it is important to speak out about gun violence in America. She said it is outrageous nothing has been done about gun control after the shootings at Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Orlando nightclub shooting.
“I believe it’s very important to be able to contribute to society because although we may not be able to vote until we’re 18, it’s still our country, and it’s still our future at stake,” Peña-Lobel said. “Students aren’t powerless, and we need to show other students that.”
Peña-Lobel along with fellow student organizers Bennett Owens, Haley Linden, Marielle Leiboff, Charlotte O’Dell and Noah Mond met with the high school’s Principal Alan Baum March 2 to discuss the walkout.
“It was a good meeting overall,” Owens said. “We planned originally on walking out of the front entrance but over safety concerns, [Baum] would rather us walk out of the north side entrance, which is the gym entrance. It wasn’t like his way was ridiculous in any way. Obviously, he had plans that we as students don’t, and he was looking out for our safety.”
Owens, a senior, said if plans were to be approved school security would also be on hand for the 17-minute event, and said he hopes students would not receive any disciplinary action for participating as long as they remain civil. Owens said he was working on inviting a speaker to address the crowd, and there will also be a moment of silence. Teachers who are unable to participate would be given orange ribbons to show their support.
“The district is working on a plan in concert with building administration and the board of education regarding this matter,” district spokeswoman Jessica Novins said in a statement March 5 when asked about the event. “Once finalized, the plans will be communicated to students and parents.”
Many parents in the district, like Mike Ferrara, are concerned about the walkout. He said he supports the students’ rights to peacefully assemble and their freedom of speech and believes it’s a teachable moment. But he said he also believes it should be done outside of school hours. The parent said he hopes the board of education will evaluate the decision and consider potential future ramifications.
“Where our responsibility lies as parents and school officials is to provide guidance as to when and where their protests occur and that they are respectfully executed.”
— Mike Ferrara
“Where our responsibility lies as parents and school officials is to provide guidance as to when and where their protests occur and that they are respectfully executed,” Ferrara said. “In my opinion, it is not appropriate that our children be allowed, even encouraged, to walk out during school hours. The impact of their statement will become divisive and disruptive if that is the case. It will also be viewed by many as an endorsement by our school district of a particular position on the issues. For example, if a group of students organized a walkout in support of restrictions on abortions, I believe it is highly unlikely that it would be allowed. Allowing walkouts to make political statements of any kind may open doors that can never be closed.”
Other parents, including local political activist Shoshana Hershkowitz, support the students in their decision.
“As a parent and educator, I think that the walkout is an excellent lesson for students about civil disobedience and the First Amendment,” she said. “This type of action is a cornerstone of the anti-war movement, the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage. The students are seeking change, and this is a way to express that desire. My hope for these students is that they will continue their quest for change with civic engagement.”
Peña-Lobel said the response so far from students has been positive. She said while many of her friends have similar beliefs to her, those with contrasting opinions on guns have been respectful of the participants planning to peacefully stand up for their beliefs.
Organizers have been sharing information on the Instagram account @wmhs_walkout. The account had more than 250 followers as of March 5. Peña-Lobel said it’s important for them to spread the word about the walkout and get as many supporters as possible.
“We want to be taken seriously,” Peña-Lobel said. “This isn’t a joke. This is a real thing about real people’s lives, and it could really happen anywhere and at any time.”
On March 8, students met with Baum once more to be told of the district’s decision. After administrators met with a lawyer, it was decided that students would not be allowed to participate in a walkout.