East Meadow High School students rally behind Parkland, Fla., many parents disapprove

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What started as an idea shared by three friends spread to roughly 1,000 students at East Meadow High School who, on March 14, walked out of their classes for 17 minutes to honor the victims of the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14.

Similar walkouts took place at schools across the nation, including W.T. Clarke High School in East Meadow, with many participants demanding stricter gun legislation. The movement, dubbed #Enough, was founded by Women’s March Youth Empower, the activist organization run by the same women who founded the Women’s March on Washington.

The East Meadow demonstration focused on remembering the 17 victims, with students observing a moment of silence for each one. But seniors Jake Schneebaum, Luis Melendez and Kevin Martin, who organized the rally, ended it by echoing the calls for gun law reform made by some of the survivors of the Parkland shooting.

“To see someone galvanize a movement around themselves and around their suffering is truly inspiring,” Martin said, referring to the Marjorie Stone Douglas students who have spoken out about their experience and their ideas for gun legislation.

“Not only did I feel inspired, but seeing what they did gave me tremendous pride,” Melendez added. The three students planned the East Meadow event by creating a group on Facebook and sharing it on various social media outlets, eventually gaining the support of roughly 60 percent of the student body.

District Superintendent Kenneth Card said he would not condone a political demonstration, but would not penalize any students who participated. “We can’t engage in political speech,” Card said, referring to the district administration, “but we do recognize that students should have a voice and demonstrate their sympathy for the 17 victims of the Parkland shooting. And we will ensure they are safe in doing so.”

“We knew that it couldn’t be sanctioned or condoned by the district,” Melendez said, “but we wanted to work with them.”

The three students met with the administration and agreed to lower the volume on the politics of guns in exchange for permission to hold the rally on the high school’s football field. The names of the victims were recited, followed by a moment of silence for each, and then Melendez encouraged students to be politically active and seek change in the wake of mass shootings across the country. Despite East Meadow’s diverse political landscape, he said, there was little discord among the student body.

“Students were inspired by this, and people on both sides were continuing the dialogue after the walkout,” said Schneebaum. “It was all peaceful and polite discussion.”

Some parents supported the decisions made by their children, such as Susan Bennett, whose daughter is a sophomore at East Meadow High and took part in the walkout. “I’m very proud of the students for getting involved,” she said.

Nevertheless, Schneebaum said that the movement faced much opposition from district parents on social media before and after the walkout. He cited Facebook posts in which parents accused students of wanting to waste school time, blindly follow their friends or protest in ignorance.

Susan Hutchins, 60, East Meadow, said she worried that many students were calling for gun law reform when they didn’t know about current gun laws. She cited a conversation she had with her son, who asked her if he should participate.

“Protests can be a great catalyst,” Hutchins said she told her son, “So what are you protesting?” When he couldn’t explain his frustration with gun laws, she said, “You don’t protest something just because everyone else is doing it. What’s happening in our schools is wrong and scary and sad, and yes, some things need to change. But you must educate yourself before you can be an agent of change.”

Hutchins said that schools should use the event as an opportunity to teach students about gun laws and bolster their own security.

Melendez, Schneebaum and Martin maintained that more could be done by the U.S. government when it comes to gun accessibility, whether it be expanding background checks, banning high-capacity magazines or declaring gun violence a national crisis.

“In the end, it comes down to what Congress and what our representatives are willing to do for us,” Melendez said.

Schneebaum agreed. “We have varying ideas as to how, politically, we should take action,” he said. “[But] we all unite behind the idea that we need to stay active and vocal, otherwise nothing is going to change.”

Erik Hawkins and Scott Brinton contributed to this story.