High school students in Meriden and Wallingford have joined others around the country in organizing walkouts to protest gun violence and support survivors of the school shooting in Florida last week.
“So many victims have died and we aren’t going to settle for prayers anymore,” said Angel Hart, a sophomore at Platt High School in Meriden, who helped organize a walkout at the high school Wednesday.
“After Sandy Hook, we said ‘never again,’” Hart continued, “and yet it’s happened so much. So I think we don’t trust the adults to change things anymore and we’re putting it in our own hands to control our future and our safety.”
About 150 Platt students participated in the walkout Wednesday, a week after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
At noon, students left the school building and stood outside for 17 minutes to honor the 17 people who died in the shooting. A moment of silence was held for the victims, and Platt Principal Robert Montemurro addressed students with words of encouragement.
“They really feel for the other students down there,” Montemurro told the Record-Journal. “It’s a situation that, as 17-year-olds, I can't imagine how confused they are because as an adult and principal and a father, I still can’t put my head around it.”
“Seeing so many kids coming together for something we all believe in was heartwarming,” Platt senior Allison Macinnis said.
The walkout at Platt was part of an effort by students at schools around the country who held walkouts at noon Wednesday to honor the one-week anniversary of the shooting. Another national walkout is being organized for March 14, the one-month anniversary.
Hart said she first heard about the national walkout on social media and got classmates involved by spreading the word on social media.
Montemurro said he didn’t learn about the planned walkout until Wednesday morning. While he would have preferred to plan the walkout with students beforehand, he was proud of how the students handled themselves. Montemurro said his nephew graduated from Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida two years ago.
“Kids are kids. They need support. And I just wanted to let them know that administration and staff do support them, but let’s just have a deeper conversation going forward,” Montemurro said.
Students in other districts are also calling on school administrators to support them in participating in the national walkout demonstrations.
In Wallingford, Sheehan High School sophomores Angelina Tiroletto and Sam Gontarz met with Superintendent Salvatore Menzo this week to talk about participating in the next national walkout, scheduled for March 14 at 10 a.m. That walkout is being planned by Women’s March organizers.
Tiroletto said participating in the walkout is important because it will raise awareness and hopefully bring about better security in schools.
Menzo told students he supported the idea but it would require more planning, the students said. Menzo sent an email to parents this week saying the administration is planning an organized response for students, families and staff.
“We are in the process of drafting plans that would address the needs and concerns of each of these groups. In doing so, we have been working with the mayor and other local officials for their support and collaboration,” Menzo wrote in the email. “Our initial plans include scheduling meetings with students to discuss ideas as related to the proposed Walk-Out on March 14. We want to implement ideas to support student voice and advocacy while being mindful that not everyone may have the same feelings or beliefs.”
Students, many of whom were in elementary school during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, said they want to see substantial change come from this latest school shooting.
“I have felt a sense of fear in school ever since these shootings happened,” Macinnis said.
Gontarz, who has siblings in elementary school, said her worst fear is getting a call that her brother or sister has been shot or harmed.
“Even if this does take years, just whatever I can do to keep them and every other innocent child safe,” Gontarz said.
Gontarz and Tiroletto said they want to see improvements made to school security.
“We’re going to keep pushing for (better school security) until we get something because I have two younger nieces and I don’t want to have to worry that they’re going to get killed in school,” Tiroletto said.
The Sheehan students first learned about the national walkout next month on social media and Hart organized the walkout Wednesday after seeing other schools’ plans on Twitter.
“I feel that almost every one of the students in this country is fed up with the way our safety has been treated,” Hart said. “We are saying ‘this is enough’ because we’ve lived through so much of it and if we want change we have to go out there and change it ourselves.”
In addition to the March 14 walkout, student organizers are also planning a March For Our Lives in Washington D.C. to advocate school safety and gun control. A third national walkout day on April 20 has been organized by Connecticut high school student Lane Murdock, a 15-year-old from Ridgefield, to honor the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, which killed 12 students and one teacher in Colorado.
While students at Sandy Hook Elementary School were not old enough to speak out publicly and on social media at the time, teenagers at Stoneman Douglas High School have been outspoken following the shooting, calling for stronger gun control. Local high school students said they were inspired to take action by the Florida students.
“Students speaking out and running something like this could really show how capable we are and how our voices could finally be heard,” Macinnis said of the Platt walkout. “It didn’t cause immediate change, but it shows how willing we are to continue this and continue speaking up about it.”