Smithtown grapples with calls for national walkout

Smithtown grapples with calls for national walkout

Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen. File Photo.

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.

Town of Smithtown school districts and officials are weighing how the marches might play out here, with logistics and safety being of the utmost concern for administrators.

I firmly believe that giving students a voice in the running of their school and community is paramount to the education process”
— Timothy Eagen

“I firmly believe that giving students a voice in the running of their school and community is paramount to the education process,” said Kings Park Superintendent Timothy Eagen.

Eagen said he had Lino Bracco, principal of Kings Park High School, meet with the student council last week to gauge what they were thinking of and planning for March 14.

“Our goal is to understand what our students are thinking and feeling, and best support their voice,” Eagen said.

Kings Park’s student council was instructed on what boundaries they must operate within March 14, according to Eagen, and the plans will incorporate aspects of remembrance, unity and an education activities aimed at
remembering the 17 lives lost in Parkland. Specific details were not made available in time for publication.

Prior to the Parkland shooting, Kings Park held a “leadership summit” consisting of 32 adults and students in which it was felt that the district needs to work together with the community to better address “the increasingly complex issues that are impacting our students and their families.” A forum is set for March 13, 7 p.m. at Kings Park High School cafeteria to address topics including cyberbullying, social isolation, the effects of social media addiction, and the need for volunteers to serve as positive role models. A recreational night will be run in the gymnasium by National Honor Society students for students and children while the forum is underway.

Commack school officials said they are still discussing the walkout with their students, and what if any events will occur, according to spokeswoman Brenda Lentsch. No solid information regarding the event or district’s stance was available as of press time.

We’re protesting the violence in schools and the lack of change that has occurred to stop that.”
— National School Walkout Website

Neighboring school administrators in Smithtown Central School District declined to comment on their plans for March 14.

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 Feb. 28 statement.

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.