Students in some local districts will join with others across the country in walking out of class Wednesday to mark the one-month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 14 students and three staff members.
Two local districts are displaying differing reactions to the walkouts, which are calling attention to the issue of gun violence in schools, with Queensbury school officials providing a venue for the protest, while Hadley-Luzerne is warning students they will be disciplined if they participate.
Queensbury Superintendent Douglas Huntley said student leaders approached Principal Damian Switzer, and school officials have made sure the event will be conducted safely. The Warren County Sheriff’s Office has accepted the district’s invitation to be present.
Huntley said the event was not organized by the school.
“It wasn’t our idea. It’s not our initiative, but once they’ve decided to do it, I think it’s our responsibility to make sure they’re safe and everything goes smoothly,” he said.
Students will be out of class for 17 minutes to symbolize each life lost in the tragedy on Feb. 14. They plan to go to the gymnasium and some student leaders will make statements and there will be a brief performance, according to Huntley.
“They’re going to have a banner that the student body can sign, notes and cards to send all of this to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” he said.
Huntley said teachers would be staying with students who choose not to walk out.
Hadley-Luzerne Superintendent Beecher Baker said in a letter to parents posted on the district’s website that students would be subject to discipline if they walk out of school, which could include suspension and exclusion from after-school activities.
Baker said in a follow-up interview that the school made this decision for safety and academic reasons. He said he does not have a lot of staff to supervise students who walk out of class.
“I can’t guarantee their safety in any way. We certainly feel uncomfortable with that,” he said.
He added that he does not think it is wise for students to advertise that they are going to be a certain place at a certain time, with the potential for people who want to do harm.
Baker said he does not want the students to lose 17 minutes of instruction. He preferred if the students would have this event before school or during an activity period after school.
“When it’s during a class period, we see that as being divisive. There’s going to be some kids who go and some who don’t,” he said. “You’re looking at ostracizing the kids who don’t go.”
Baker also said he does not believe the school should get involved in political issues.
“That’s not what we do as a school,” he said.
He noted that there is another protest on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, where students are instructed to walk out and not come back.
“Where does this end?” he said.
At Moreau Elementary School in South Glens Falls, parent Liz Miner is organizing a walkout. She said her boys, ages 9 and 11, wanted to do something.
Miner said she and her sons plan to stand by the flag at Moreau Elementary School for 17 minutes. She plans to show a brief presentation on her tablet with some facts about gun violence and to honor the 17 people who were killed.
Miner said she and her husband grew up hunting with their fathers and plan on teaching their children about gun safety. She would like to see changes in gun laws, including having nearby states such as Vermont and New Hampshire to adopt gun restrictions similar to New York’s.
People convicted of multiple drug-related offenses and felons should not be allowed to own firearms, she said, and civilians have no need for military grade weapons.
“First, these killing machines have no place in hunting, as our regular hunting rifles do the trick. Second, a Glock or hunting rifle will protect you the same as a rapid fire gun against a military tank, if that’s what you’re worried about,” she said in an email.
South Glens Falls is not sanctioning the walkout and students will face disciplinary consequences under the code of conduct, according to a statement on the district’s website.
The district has activities at the middle and high schools planned for the day. Students will be able to write legislators and express their support for the students at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School.
A student walkout is also taking place in the Saratoga Springs City School District.
Other events are occurring across the country on that date, loosely organized by Women’s March Youth Empower, which is calling for Congress to pass gun control legislation.