After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, America mourned, however, Americans have not simply moved on. Across the United States, teenagers and adults alike are using this tragedy as a vessel for political change. One political movement called “Women’s March” has even requested nationwide support from schools, calling for a walkout for 17 minutes at 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, March 14th in support of a reform against gun violence in honor of the 17 victims, who included students and teachers.
At Hills West, students are not obliged to show their support by participating in the walkout at 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, March 14th and by wearing orange (in solidarity for the National Gun Violence Awareness Campaign).
“The Half Hollow Hills Central School District sympathizes with the desire of students to express themselves and to participate in an event to affect meaningful change. However, it is important for parents and students to understand that a “walk-out” cannot be permitted or endorsed by the district. If a student chooses to participate in the walkout they will be marked with an unexcused absence” remarked Dr. Catapano in an email regarding the walkout to Hills West Families.
When interviewed about the meaning of the walkout, Grace Mendelsohn, a junior at Hills West who worked with others to organize the walkout stated, “The central goal [of the walkout] is to bring every single student who does not want to see more kids shot, together, to be heard.”
Americans are not sitting still and crying. They could not silently hope for the sanctity of their own children and peers; American students, parents, and teachers knew they had a problem to solve. So, as Americans do, they got to work. Fast Forward to present day Washington D.C., and the streets are flooded with political activists and movements ranging from The Women’s March to March For Our Lives. Although there is no clear-cut solution, most agree that there is a need for change. Many political movements are urging for changes ranging from a ban on bump stocks, to mental health screening for gun purchasers, or even arming teachers and security guards at schools. Furthermore, participants are urged to attend a similar protest with government officials on March 24th at 11:00 A.M. at SUNY Farmingdale. However, this walkout cannot be officially approved by the district. These protests will mark an almost certainly historic moment in American history for students around the country.
At 2:21 P.M. on February 14th, 2018 America failed. While Hills West students peacefully strolled off their buses, students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida suffered one of the most infamous tragedies in recent history. The Parkland community and America were brought to their knees as they helplessly watched seventeen innocent lives perish at the hands of a single shooter, one of Parkland’s own former students. As the fire alarm at Parkland falsely rang, students unwittingly fled straight to their demise.
Two days later, on Friday, February 16th at Half Hollow Hills High School West, hearts dropped as an unexpected, sinister, and familiar sounding false fire alarm rattled the bones of many students and faculty alike. One student Morgan Grant described the situation as “surreal” as it interrupted her math test and even remarked, “I couldn’t believe I even had the thought that there could be an active shooter here, but it truly could’ve been our reality.” While another student Jake Kenny commented, “I really wasn’t expecting anything to happen, but I stayed back until the hallway was clear, just in case.”
Although this event only gives a preview into the terror experienced at the Florida Shooting it provided a world of perspective for Hills West. At first glance, it seems that legislative latency leaves schools vulnerable in the near future, however, some schools are taking matters into their own hands with additional precautions. After recent events, Hills West staff members are seen donning an identification badge as an effort to keep the school safe.
Additionally, the district is attempting to show their support of the walkout through the social studies department. When interviewed about this effort, Mr. Cascio, a social studies teacher at Hills West, explained that this walkout is making history and that it is the “responsibility of the teachers to teach the students about the walkout and exercising their rights.” Originally, this lesson was supposed to take place on Monday, March 12th, however, it has been postponed until further notice.
Hills West is not the only school supporting the walkout, schools from all over the country are participating, even those in our local area. Hills East, Commack, and St. Anthony’s are all taking part in the walkout at 10 A.M. in front of their respective schools. This walkout is largely a product of the students, not the schools themselves. When asked about the walkout in her school, Commack sophomore Nicole Nicou said “Administration here isn’t discussing it with students or saying that it’s allowed, but our student council discussed it with them, and since, many students are taking part in the walkout. Our student council president said no one’s going to be punished for it.”
Although many public schools like Commack cannot officially endorse the walkout, they can pardon students who participate. At Hills West, students who participate in the walkout will not be reprimanded, however, they will be marked with an unexcused absence.
With all of the commotion in Washington D.C. it is easy to get involved with the political nature of walkout; obviously an important method of protection for schools is through legislation, however, some fail to realize the symbolic and meaningful nature of this particular walkout in contrast with other walkouts in American history.
During the Florida Shooting, victims were killed fleeing the school as a fire alarm alerted them to leave. In this walkout, similarly to the victims of Parkland, Florida, we too will be walking out of our school to the turf. Almost as though we are symbolically walking in the footsteps of and to the graves of 17 victims. For this reason, it is imperative students recognize the walkout as more than a reason to cut class, but a memorial to the dead.
Furthermore, this walkout in particular not only represents a political change but a humanitarian movement.
Across the board, it is agreed that the main cause of school shootings is lack of sufficient mental health care. A primary factor connecting many school shooters are feelings of isolation, ostracism, and sometimes even bullying. In extreme cases, these daunting feelings may even cause an individual to act out as a cry for help, and, unfortunately, some individuals resort to school shootings. Although school shootings are certainly tragic for the victims, it would be wrong to ignore that the shooter themselves has suffered, too. In an ideal world, where students are always kind and accepting, many of these victims could have been saved. During the turbulent time of high school, it is important we recognize when others are suffering and show our support.
During this walkout, students will walk out of school, like the Parkland Victims, trusting those who are suffering that they will not inflict harm upon us. Furthermore, students will walk out of school together hand and hand with those same people who are victims of isolation, showing our support to all students within our district and beyond. “This walkout is about showing solidarity and coming together as a community,” encouraged Morgan Grant, SEC President.
During this walkout, recognize that our culture has created the very monster harming us, recognize that we are all part of the problem, and recognize we all have the power to fix it. During this walkout, take some time to reflect on yourself, but also be empathetic to others. And, of course, memorialize the victims of the Parkland Shooting. As humans, we are all vested with the power to make a change. At 10:00 A.M. on Wednesday, March 14th at Hills West, we will make history, not only for ourselves but one another, in remembrance of the innocent victims of mass shootings everywhere and for those suffering from untreated mental illness.
*This article is dedicated to all of those who have passed in any mass shooting, especially to the Parkland victims and those who suffer from untreated mental illness.
Additional Reporting by Julia Jassey, Hayley Kalb, Poojan Pandya, and Sunjana Varma.