Hundreds of local high school students were expected to descend upon Washington. D.C., New York City and SUNY Old Westbury to “March For Our Lives” on Saturday just as they did when they walked out of school for 17 minutes on Wednesday, March 14, and quietly but effectively called for new school safety measures while reading aloud the 17 names of students and facility that had been killed on February 14 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Students descend the staircase on their way to a 17-minute walkout (photo by Kate Derwin)
The walk-outs at the six schools in the district were part of a nationwide student movement gathering momentum against violence in schools the students say is directed toward them.
“After this shooting, I have become afraid in my own school, and think about where I could take refuge should something like this happen here,” remarked Calhoun senior Amanda Geist, who, along with Amritha Jacob, Cara Vecchione and Carson Tremotto helped organize the school’s student walk-out event.
A September 2016 story in Your NewMag discussed security tools being developed and implemented by the Nassau County Police Department after the Sandy Hook shooting in which 27 died. The tools are designed to thwart active shooters by using mobile apps on phones to alert police immediately to activate school cameras and see where the shooter is in the school, isolate the event and address the threat through appropriate force.
Bellmore School District superintendent Dr. Joe Famularo said the district is continually upgrading its cameras and placing stronger doors, such as bullet-resistant ones, in its schools. He added that administrators and teachers are constantly training using the latest materials and strategies to keep students safe.
Merrick School District Superintendent Dr. Dominick Palma has requested $1.5 million extra from the district’s carry over fund to provide for armed guards – if appropriate, and redesign spaces while strengthening doors and windows to make them bullet-proof, for example.
Meanwhile, Dave Seinfeld, acting principal of Kennedy High School, told Your NewsMag the school’s students were very orderly with their walkout. “I think students felt good about expressing their plea for safer schools and the need for gun reform,” he said.
Kennedy sophomore Catarina Salerno said that the walkout was “a positive experience, and the senior class president paid homage to the students and teachers killed at Parkland.” Sophomore Samaya Saperstein said it “felt important to be among a large group of students that are supportive of these causes.”
CHSD Superintendent John DeTommaso, in a statement after students had expressed their feelings in the walkout, said “… students in all six of our schools took part in the national student walkout for 17 minutes to support their fellow classmates in Parkland on a day of remembrance for 17 lives tragically and unnecessarily lost, and against the scourge of gun violence that is ravaging communities across this country.”
CHSD Superintendent was supportive of the walkout – in whatever safe way the students wished to express themselves
He added that some students chose to stay in their classes, opting to continue to focus on their studies during those 17 minutes. “I am … proud of all of our students for exercising their constitutional options and doing so respectfully, peacefully and without judgment, regardless of what they chose to do today.”
DeTommaso, at a recent CHSD board meeting, cited the district’s Comprehensive Plan 2017-18, a district-wide school safety plan on the school district website that explains the district’s current strategies for addressing and resolving a host of security issues, including invasions into the school.
With its plan, the district asserts it will remain vigilant in the face of possible new threats with dynamic reporting systems in place, such as video cameras and security guards – along with county police technology that could isolate the threatening event – and will implement any new solutions that become available from local police. The district would also welcome any new federal funding for more enhanced security to schools, should it become available.
Calhoun senior Kara Vecchione and junior Carson Termotto were at the CHSD board meeting and said “having armed guards” was a consideration that was brought up by Superintendent DeTommaso. “He said he was also considering such things as a closed campus and metal detectors,” said Carson. Kara was displeased with a prospect of metal detectors in the school.
She said that when the meeting was opened up to attendees the majority of those that spoke were against arming guards to protect the school. “We don’t need more lethal force being available in our schools,” she said.
Carson said using guns to protect against gun violence was not a viable option, as it could lead to more harm and appeared to be also for student control. “This seems like talk about ‘school policing,’ ” he said, rather than about protecting students.
Kara said there was an armed guard at Parkland High School when it was attacked by the gunman, and it did little to help those students.
Amritha Jacob, a Calhoun On-Tour freshman and organizer of the walkout, said it “went better than expected,” with Carson adding he thought one-half the student population was involved with the walkout, in one way or another. Students were respectful, he said, though by and large they wished toi express the need for gun reform and school safety.
From left, student leaders Amanda Geist, Carson Termotto, Amritha Jacob and Kara Vecchione helped organize the Calhoun walk out
Amritha said talk of a “Walk Up” movement – a movement in which students treat one another more respectfully to counter a potential school shooter’s firing toward them – wouldn’t work to defuse potential gun violence on students. “We should all be respectful of one another regardless of what we think or feel,” she said, inferring a moral default position.
Kennedy’s Salerno said that while many students during the walkout stayed indoors, “most of the classmates I talked to, whether indoors or out, were supportive of better gun laws.” We don’t want our teachers with guns,” said Samaya, “we need better gun laws.”
Anjali Jacob, a Mepham junior, said that about 50 or so students from among hundreds gathered in the auditorium walked outside for the 17 minutes to honor the students in Florida, but “there was clear talk of gun safety and of better school safety among speakers while in the auditorium.”
Students walk out to hear student leaders read the names of 17 who lost their lives to school violence. For them, the mantra begins: “Never Again” (photo by Kate Derwin)
Kara did not agree that mental illness is a cause for student shootings in schools. “Don’t blame the mentally ill for pulling the trigger,” said Kara, “if there was no trigger to pull these things wouldn’t occur.”
Amanda spoke instead of the need for better programs and solutions toward bullying. “Bullying just doesn’t happen in a school setting, it can happen outside school too,” she said.
Such intimidating behavior, the Calhoun students believe, can lead to younger, vulnerable students being pushed to become violent toward others as a means to “get even.” That isn’t a mental illness, said Amanda, that’s anger.
Bellmore resident Christian Keller, a professor of history and philosophy at SUNY Old Westbury, said the march at SUNY Old Westbury was co-sponsored by the school and the Every Child Matter organization. South Shore Woman’s Caucus founder Claudia Borecky was traveling to Washington, D.C. with a contingent of women to participate in the all-day “March for Our Lives” event.