Students at Kingston High School are moving forward with their plans to walk out of class next week as part of a national movement to raise awareness about gun violence and honor those who lost their lives in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
While Kingston City School District school officials have expressed concern about safety surrounding the walkout, they’ve said they won’t punish students for participating.
“It’s not about us wanting to restrict their speech, because we don’t want to do that,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino. “We want them to be heard, but to do it in a way that’s safe.”
The ENOUGH National School Walkout is an initiative organized by Women’s March Youth Empower, a collective of teenage activists from across the country working within the larger Women’s March organization. The national walkout is planned for 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m. in each time zone across the country on Wednesday, March 14 — one minute each for everyone who lost their lives in the Florida shooting one month earlier.
At a meeting of the Kingston school board on Wednesday, Feb. 21, trustees declined to endorse the walkout, though, like Padalino, they cited safety among their reasons.
“It should not be presumed that just because we’re on the [school] board that we don’t feel the same grief,” said Trustee Suzanne Jordan. “As Dr. Padalino said, the safety of our students and our schools and faculty and administrators are the most important thing. And it is a sad day that we have to have this discussion.”
Students at J. Watson Bailey Middle School have already held their own peaceful walkout and moment of silence, leaving school on Tuesday, Feb. 20 to honor the victims in Parkland.
Initially planned as an impromptu student demonstration, school officials at Bailey, including Principal Debra Fitzgerald and Vice Principal Dan Erceg, worked with students to turn the event into a sanctioned school-wide response.
Padalino said he felt the event at Bailey was appropriate, but added he would have preferred it to take place indoors. Whether a possible similar solution for the March 14 walkout can be reached remains to be seen, but students are still planning to move forward in some capacity.
While the superintendent declined to endorse the walkout, he acknowledged last week that the debate about gun violence in schools may be different now than in the past because students are so actively involved.
“This is why we’re having the conversation, because it’s kids,” Padalino said. “Up to this point adults have had plenty of opportunity. Students leading this, especially the students from Parkland who are speaking out — I mean, we sit and hear them every night — it’s compelling. The significance of that is that they are realizing they can step up and make a difference and aren’t leaving it to other people.”
Trustee the Rev. James Childs paraphrased the Old Testament (“…and a little child shall lead them”; Isaiah 11:6) as a means of offering similar faith in students to have their voices heard.
“I think we saw this happen in the ’60s when it was children that really made the civil rights movement effective,” Childs said. “And I think we’re seeing that now with the children who are stepping out and speaking out about the things that have impacted their lives and they want to see changed.”