Three Onteora students suspending for walking out of school to protest gun violence told the School Board they’d like to start an Activism Task Force to improve communication between students who want to express their political beliefs and school administrators.
Onteora High School students Emily Peck, Sophia Roberts, and Eva Donato, who were suspended for a day when they left campus on April 20 to protest gun violence, spoke during public commentary at the May 1 Onteora School Board meeting.
“We didn’t want to argue our suspension, we totally understand,” said Peck.
The three have proposed an Activism Task Force that would link students to administration when there is an upcoming event students may want to participate in.
Peck, Roberts and Donato were among a half dozen students suspended as a result of the April 20 walkout, a national event that saw 2600 school districts and approximately 250,000 students participate, according to the National School Walkout website. It followed a March 14 walkout to honor the 17 students who were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. About 120 Onteora High School and Middle School students, along with approximately 70 from Bennett School, walked out of classes that day.
Students weren’t disciplined for walking out March 14.
“It went great,” said Onteora superintendent Victoria McLaren at the time. “We’re very proud of our students.” According to McLaren, the students gathered in the gym and were handed orange ribbons. They then walked out to the track as a group, walked the track, gave out cards to those who wished to send messages to Parkland students, observed a moment of silence, then returned to classes.
McLaren said several students organized the demonstration. “They worked directly with the administration in the building to make sure everything went smoothly.”
The problem with the April 20 walkout? The district explained the difference in a letter that went out prior to the walkout date: “In contrast [to the March 14 walkout], additional demonstration being planned for April 20, 2018 (the anniversary of the Columbine school shooting), may prove more disruptive. The groups supporting this walkout are encouraging students to leave the building at 10 a.m. and be absent from the school for the remainder of the day.”
The proposal to increase communication between student activists and administrators, which would address these concerns, was met with praise from trustees and the superintendent.
“I think the idea for an activism task force is an idea worth exploring since we are now seeing yearly marches and more activism from students,” said trustee Laurie Osmond. “Anything we can do to enhance communication would be great.”
Superintendent Victoria McLaren agreed. “I’m happy to hear students talk about working with the administration and lay the ground work and see where we can go with it.”
Trustee Lindsay Shands joined in. “I want to second that. I like to see a negative turn to positive.”