Students in the Five Towns and across the country are planning to walk out of their schools on March 14, at 10 a.m., for 17 minutes to honor the memory of the 17 people who were killed at Majority Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, and to protest Congress’s inaction in passing, legislation that would help prevent mass shootings.
The idea of a national walkout sprung from the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER Toolkit, an initiative of Women’s March Youth that has partnered with other organizations such as Peace First, Rise to Run, Teen Vogue, The Justice League NYC, the Gathering For Justice and Rock The Vote.
Hewlett High School and Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway High students are planning to take part in the protest. Hayden Gise, a Hewlett High senior and the president of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance, said that a group of seniors banded together and decided to participate. “Students here see what’s going on in the world,” Gise said, “and we want to think globally and act locally, and make sure that Parkland is the last mass shooting.”
Parkland, like the Hewlett community, has a large Jewish population. Gise said that some of his classmates knew some of the victims from attending the same camps. They included Scott Beigel, a Long Island native and a counselor at Camp Starlight in Pennsylvania, who was shot and killed while trying to shelter students in his classroom. “We hope to honor his legacy and rally for change,” Gise said.
Hewlett High students have met with administrators and the representative of the teachers union to discuss the walkout. Deputy Superintendent Mark Secaur said that exactly what will take place is still being discussed. It could be a walkout, or it could be an in-school assembly.
Secaur, a former high school principal, said he believes this is a “teachable moment.” “We’re trying to create an opportunity for the students to have the time to reflect and memorialize what happened,” he said. “We were first approached by some very passionate individuals, and got the student government involved.”
Hewlett High senior Renee Nakkab said she planned to take part in the walkout to stress the importance of combating gun violence. “I’m taking part in this walkout to emphasize that us students are united on a common front, and stand in unity to protest gun violence,” the Herald’s Hewlett Happenings columnist said. “What happened in Florida could have happened to any school, and we hope to raise awareness to create a safer environment.”
HAFTR Principal Naomi Lippman confirmed that the school in Cedarhurst would take part in the walkout. “Our students expressed an interest in commemorating the lives of the 17 students and adults,” she said. “We are a modern Orthodox yeshiva preparing our children to be knowledgeable, thoughtful, active citizens in the larger world, and this is an opportunity for them to learn about the democratic process by participating in a larger movement. We will have an ongoing dialogue with our students about the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, and what can be effectuated through state and federal legislation to prevent future mass shootings, and advocate for additional money for school security.”
Rambam Mesivta High School students in Lawrence will not take part in the walkout, but helped pay for a half-page advertisement in Florida’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper to show their solidarity with the students and faculty of Majority Stoneman Douglas High and the Parkland community. “The mission of the school is to educate students, not to walk out of class,” said Rabbi Zev Friedman, the school’s dean. Lawrence district and DRS plans were unclear at press time.
Gise said he hoped that he and his classmates’ actions can effect change in the Hewlett-Woodmere School District and beyond. The students have discussed changes with administration officials such as requiring ID cards that can be scanned in order for their wearers to enter (a measure that he said the school had already been considering), arming all but the school’s main doors with alarms and devising escape plans.
Legislation banning assault weapons is one of the loftier goals of Hewlett’s students, Gise said. “[President Ronald Reagan] said, ‘No civilian needs an AK-47.’ We say no civilian needs an AR-15,” he said. “These weapons of war don’t belong in the hands of the mentally ill, and hunters don’t need 50 rounds to shoot a deer.”
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