By Robert Kimmel –
Hundreds of students in the rivertowns will demonstrate their support for tougher gun laws and their sympathy for the victims of the Parkland, Florida school massacre last month, when clocks read 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14.
Sleepy Hollow and Irvington High School students anticipate leaving their classrooms and spending 17 minutes, most likely outside on school grounds, as an expression of their protests before returning. The 17 minutes represent the number of Parkland high school students and teachers shot to death by a 19-year-old former student.
Students at Hackley are also expected to participate in what is described as a national school walkout, mobilized to protest gun violence in the aftermath of the Florida killings and driven by the rising anger over almost 300 school shootings in this country during the past five years.
The demonstrations are being described as the greatest single protest ever to engage students across the nation. Local district superintendents, school principals, and teachers have been meeting with student representatives to organize protests that will be both secure and effective. School authorities, for the most part, are in accord with the students’ requests to demonstrate in some manner.
In a letter posted by Chris Borsari, Tarrytown School District Superintendent, he wrote, “As a father, superintendent, and human being, I was deeply disturbed, saddened, and frightened by the tragic and incomprehensible events which took place in Parkland, Florida. Events such as these have an impact that reverberates far beyond the boundaries of any single community. It affects us all in different ways, ways which are often hard to define or describe.”
Regarding the student walkout, Borsari later told The Hudson Independent, “It is a great opportunity for kids to learn about how you can protest things in a democracy, non-violently.” He explained that students had reached out to Sleepy High School Principal Dr. Tracey Smith to discuss the demonstration, “and if the kids want to do this, and it is something voluntary, they can. I would hate to say ‘no’ to kids when it hits so close to home for every kid in America.” Borsari noted that there was continuing dialogue about it with teachers and the principal, among a leadership group, and with the Student Council.
The Middle School students had approached their principal as well to protest in a different sort of way, Borsari said. Whatever is decided upon for both schools, he said it should be “as meaningful as possible, safe and supervised.”
“We are talking to students and faculty,” in regard to the protest, said Dr. Kristopher Harrison, Irvington School District Superintendent. “Our interest is to promote our student’s voices, and we need to collaborate on a strategy that will certainly support an opportunity to do that,” Harrison added. “It should be done in a manner that is productive and positive for the school community and balances our responsibility to the school district.”
Michael Wirtz, Hackley Head of School, stated that students there would be permitted to participate in the March 14 walkout, or not, “based on their personal beliefs. Participating students will not face disciplinary responses,” he said. He noted the school’s mission: “Hackley challenges students to grow in character, scholarship, and accomplishment, to offer unreserved effort, and to learn from the varying perspectives and backgrounds in our community and the world.”
“A walkout is a form of social disobedience, a form of protest that we believe Hackley students understand as essential to a functioning democracy,” Wirtz said. “As we look to educate citizens and members of the electorate, we believe this is an important educational moment for students who wish to participate in a peer-driven and led movement.”
Wirtz also signed what was a full page “Letter to the President and Our National Legislative Leaders,” from nearly 200 New York private school heads, taking up a full page in the New York Times. It was titled, “Heads of Schools Speak Out Against Gun Violence.”
“This walk out will hopefully show our country’s leaders and the world that it’s time to stop talking about issues and start acting,” said Spencer Warnock, a Sleepy Hollow High School senior. Liam Kharem, a junior at the school, commented, “A walk out is a peaceful way to show how we feel about this important issue.” Samatha Allen, a senior, remarked, “I think it’s a great thing that will show the world we care.”
An Irvington High School sophomore, Sam Roth, who won a grant from the Irvington Education Foundation, plans to turn that asset into a symposium in the village on gun violence awareness. Roth is working with Mom’s Demand Action for Common Sense Gun Reform. He has been discussing his pursuit with Irvington school administrators. Sarah Wynter, a TV actress, and Gary Graubart, a co-leader of Westchester’s Mom’s Demand for Action, are mentoring his efforts, and supporting Roth’s plan to win approval from the school for the symposium.
Roth’s anti-gun violence posting on Facebook after the Parkland shooting got 650 comments; he called it, “clearly a conversation that the people want to have.” He has also been pushing for the March 14 student school walkout.
Local students, many parents, and others are also preparing to participate in the “March For Our Lives,” in Washington, D.C., on March 24. Initiated by survivors of the Florida shootings, the gathering’s purpose is to press Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to “…address these gun issues, that are rampant in our country,” particularly relating to school safety. Organizers say they expect 500,000 participants in Washington, and there will be similar marches in other cities.