Local students plan to join March 14 school walkout
The high school day routine will be put on hold for about 17 minutes starting at 10 a.m. March 14, as high schools and some middle schools throughout eastern Connecticut participate in what has been dubbed “#NationalSchoolWalkout.”
Unlike in some other states, several local school administrators said Tuesday they plan to allow — if not outright sanction — student-led events in connection with the national walkout, launched by Women’s March Youth EMPOWER in response to school violence. In some schools, the event is planned as a “walk-in,” keeping activities within the buildings.
On Tuesday, Norwich Free Academy Head of Schools David Klein took to the NFA airwaves during homeroom with an unscripted, live address to all 2,300 students, faculty and staff. Following a moment of silence to note Wednesday’s return to school by the Parkland high school students, Klein offered assurances to NFA students.
Don’t worry, Klein told the students, NFA not only will not discipline students for participating in the March 14 walkout, NFA will sanction the event.
“I told them we’re aware that they want to do something and want to make a statement on this national issue of gun violence,” Klein said later Tuesday. “There’s no need for secrecy about the March 14 event, and we want to assist them in planning their response.”
Dozens of NFA clubs, sports teams, history classes and other student groups will meet separately this week with their group advisers to discuss their ideas for what NFA’s participation should include. On Monday, student representatives from all the groups will gather to outline a plan for March 14. NFA staff will review that plan on Tuesday, March 6, and the final plan will be unveiled Friday, March 9.
“It will be inclusive, safe, thoughtful and lawful,” Klein said, summing up the goals of NFA's participation in the national walkout.
Norwich Free Academy Student Advisory Board President Kathleen Kelly and fellow senior Guercie Guerrier of Norwich, president of the Norwich NAACP Robertsine Duncan Youth Council, called Klein’s address “assuring” and “calming." The two said Tuesday the NFA student social media universe has been abuzz since the Valentine’s Day shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 14 students and three staff and sent another 14 to the hospital.
NFA students have been watching, sharing and responding to graphic videos posted by students from inside the Douglas School during the shooting. Thousands of miles away, eastern Connecticut felt instantly horrified, connected and in touch with their peers who were victims of the attack, the students said.
That made this shooting different from the pre-social-media massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999.
Guerrier set the bar high for NFA’s walkout March 14: “The thing we’re going to do, whatever we’re going to do, it’s going to be unforgettable.”
Klein said the immediate focus is on the March 14 walkout, but if students are interested, NFA will help plan participation in planned events March 24 and April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
At Fitch High School in Groton, there will be a “walk-in” instead of a walkout, Principal Joseph Arcarese said. For safety reasons, he has opted for a ceremony in the gym and is in conversations with students — through his Principal’s Advisory Committee — to work out specifics.
Arcarese said it will “be almost like a memorial kind of service,” with Fitch students wearing the names of the Parkland students who were killed. Arcarese added that students can speak up about how they feel and said he will ask faculty if they’d like to speak on their perspectives.
Arcarese said Tuesday that he hadn’t yet made up his mind on whether there would be disciplinary action for students who do choose to walk out instead. His hope is that, when he has discussions with students, “they’ll understand why we’re not going outside, and that they would prefer to come in.”
He said that if students object to attending the ceremony, that is their right, and the school will have another place for them to go.
According to an Associated Press story published Feb. 24, school administrators in Texas and Wisconsin have warned students against participating in the March 14 walkout, promising discipline — in one Texas school district, a three-day suspension. Colleges and universities throughout the country, the University of Connecticut and Yale University among them, are assuring students who have been accepted or applied to their schools that discipline connected with the event would not hurt their applications.
At Stonington High School, Principal Mark Friese said he has been working with students on plans for events on both March 14 and 24.
"There's definitely a desire among our students to do something to connect with the students in Florida symbolically," he said.
Shortly after the Florida shooting, student leaders went to Friese to discuss how they wanted to respond to the tragedy. Friese said he is in the beginning stages of discussing possible activities on the 14th.
Friese and Superintendent of Schools Van Riley stressed that school officials want the event to be student-led.
“We support the students’ need to express themselves. But we want to make sure they do it in a safe, orderly and respectful manner,” Riley said.
"Clearly this is something we all are thinking about," Friese added. "What can be done so we don't have to think about this happening."
March 24 is a Saturday, and Friese said there also are discussions about joining a regional effort on that day.
Lyme-Old Lyme Schools Superintendent Ian Neviaser said a group of high school students have approached school officials about participating in the March 14 walkout and having their voices heard, and the district supports any students who wish to do so.
“Some of our students are planning to take part in the national walkout on March 14, and we support any student or employee who chooses to participate in that activity,” Neviaser said.
Montville schools Superintendent Brian Levesque said administrators were in talks with students and principals at the high school and middle school for a March 14 event that would honor those impacted by school violence in Parkland, Sandy Hook, Columbine and elsewhere.
"The incident in Parkland and all of the others nationally strike at the core of all of us and what we value the most," he said. "School violence needs to stop."
Levesque cautioned, however, that he did not feel it was safe to broadcast that all students would walk out for 17 minutes that day, so principals and students would coordinate alternative ways to support victims and their families.
Waterford schools Superintendent Tom Giard said Tuesday administrators would coordinate with student body leadership to accommodate middle and high school students who “want to acknowledge the Parkland tragedy in some way” in an organized event on March 14.
“Our students are focused on supporting the students in Parkland and showing solidarity with what occurred down there,” Giard said. “It’s entirely optional, we’re not going to force any students to participate, but they will be allowed to be a part of this event.”
Day Staff Writers Kimberly Drelich, Erica Moser, Benjamin Kail and Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.