Students at Saugerties High School are moving forward with their plans to walk out of school 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, Florida.
Sisters Kaia and Evi Dedek are among the students organizing the SHS walkout, which is still taking shape this week. Kaia said the more the word has gotten, the more students are planning to participate.
“We’re all really passionate about this cause,” said Kaia. “People are spreading the word, and I’m really happy that people are getting more involved.”
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 every person who’d lost their life in the Florida shooting one month earlier. Organizers locally and across the nation are hoping school administrators, teachers, parents and the community at large support their efforts to raise awareness about gun violence on school grounds.
“We’re the core organizers and we’re going to get groups together soon to make signs and write letters to Congress, get them to spread the word,” said Kaia. “By ‘core organizers’ I mean we’re the ones who are talking to the principal and the school to help make this happen.”
Kaia said involving school officials like SHS Principal Thomas Averill and Superintendent Seth Turner in the planning of the walkout is crucial.
“If the school has our back it will be a much better experience and everyone will unite together as one,” Kaia said. “I would be OK with getting in trouble, but I know a lot of people were iffy about that, and I think it makes it so much better that the school is on our side.”
After a meeting focused on school safety held in the high school cafeteria on Wednesday, February 21, Turner said that students had already engaged in discussions with administrators about plans for awareness-raising events and tributes to the victims in Florida, including the March 14 walkout, and another planned for Friday, April 20, the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
“The students have started to engage the administration at the secondary level about this,” Turner said. “We, the school officials, want to support the students in this endeavor. We want to help the kids coordinate something so it’s done in a safe fashion and it’s not just mayhem, and that they also get to make their points.”
While there have been numerous school shootings in the nearly two decades since two students at Columbine High killed 13 people before committing suicides, there are some who believe the Parkland incident could be a turning point in the national conversation about gun violence and school safety. Turner said if so, it’s because kids like Kaia and Evi Dedek are having their voices heard.
“The students are leading the way, and that to me is making the difference,” Turner said, “They’ve put a face on this tragedy, and they’re not going away.”
Kaia agreed. “When we all do this our voices will be heard and it will have a much bigger impact on Congress, and they’ll kind of feel like they have to do something now,” she said. “I would hope that it would be harder for people to purchase guns. I don’t think anyone needs any type of automatic weapon, and I hope they will eventually put a ban on that.”
Kaia added that the alleged shooter, 19-year old Nikolas Cruz, was another young life lost, if not literally, then possibly to mental illness or depression.
“I think about the age of this boy, and he clearly was in some mental state,” she said. “That really made me sad. It’s like broken children doing this. Mental health is a real issue that people are overlooking.”
Last month, Turner also said that the school district’s best chance at preventing school violence of any kind is by helping students in crisis. The district has a relationship with the Rockland County Psychiatric Center, and during Turner’s time as superintendent has doubled its number of school psychologists from two to four, and increased its number of social workers from one to three.