By Amelia Camurati, Janelle Clausen, Rebecca Klar and Luke Torrance
Thousands of North Shore students left their classrooms Wednesday morning as part of a nationwide walkout in a call to action and a memorial for the 17 people who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a month earlier.
Manhasset Superintendent Vincent Butera said the students brought the idea to the administration, and Manhasset High School Principal Dean Schlanger and the administration supported the decision.
During a school-wide announcement, Schlanger held a 17-second moment of silence, one second for each life lost in the Parkland shooting, before Madeline Clinton and Gabriella Stein, president and vice president of the Class of 2018 respectively, made a joint announcement about the purpose of the walkout.
“While this walkout is meant to honor the victims of Parkland and other victims of gun violence, it is also a political call to action,” Stein said. “We are fortunate enough to live in a state that has good gun laws, but other states such as Florida do not.”
The walkouts were a mix of memorials and a call for legislators to pass meaningful gun reform legislation to prevent mass shootings. Many also featured voter registration forms for students turning 18 before Election Day.
Clinton said the call included raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, a ban on bump stocks and an extended waiting period to include background checks.
Manhasset, Roslyn, Herricks, Great Neck and Port Washington schools as well as Buckley Country Day School in Roslyn held events as did many other districts across Long Island and the country.
Bonnie Charles, a student organizer for Great Neck South High School’s walkout, said that for her and many students, the events in Parkland were personal. For example, one of her friends, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was shot in the knee.
“This is our issue to really show the world we are the voters in the midterm elections and we know what is going on,” Charles, a senior, said.
Great Neck North High School student Adi Sragovich, who organized her school’s walkout, said she was galvanized when she saw students her own age protesting and pushing for officials to embrace gun reform laws following the school shooting in Parkland.
“It really invigorated me. I feel like my generation is finally coming into its moment,” Sragovich said last Thursday. “Unfortunately, that power comes from the fact we’re the ones being hunted and killed.”
But it was not only high school students who participated. At Buckley Country Day School, students in grades five through eight assembled outside to place flowers, recite poems, sing songs and call for change.
“We are a school that works diligently to instill what it means to be a good citizen, to be aware of what your privileges and rights are,” Colleen Fortuna, the school’s director of admissions, said. “And so it was a natural evolution that they would have some awareness of this and want to participate … this was really driven by the children.”
One of those students who spoke was Bryan Byrne.
“Mass shootings in this country aren’t an anomaly like they used to be,” the seventh-grader said. “I was inspired to speak because these kids died doing the most ordinary of tasks in math and English … it wasn’t correct and something needed to be done.”
At the Wheatley School, in addition to the school-wide gathering at 10 a.m. in honor of the Parkland victims, the school was celebrating the theme of the “power of one’s voice in a democratic society” throughout the day, said Principal Sean Feeney.
In social studies classes, students will look up representatives on the federal, state and local level, Feeney said. Once discovering an issue that matters to them, students will write an email to a representative, Feeney said.
“Wheatley voices will be heard, whatever the issue might be,” Feeney said. “And I think the lesson will be this is how one gets engaged civically.”
The school will also register seniors to vote, he said.
The students at Roslyn High School, who gathered in the gymnasium Wednesday morning to honor the victims, are already getting the attention of a political candidate for their efforts.
Brad Schwartz, a Democrat running for state Senate in District 7, visited his alma mater on Wednesday morning in solidarity with the students.
“These young people are an example to our country on how to take action and inspire lasting commitment to change when adults in government have failed,” Schwartz said in a statement.
Schwartz said he was struck by the high level of security installed that differed from what was there when he attended two decades ago.
“Kids no longer have the open sense of safety my peers and I enjoyed,” Schwartz said. “Children deserve that.”
Schwartz has previously signed the No NRA Money Pledge and supports gun control measures approved by the Assembly that have yet to be voted on in the state Senate.
Students at Herricks High School also held a ceremony on Wednesday morning, according to a message shared with Blank Slate Media by a student.
At 10:05 a.m. students planned to meet in the front circle to spend 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims.
The time was set aside to allow the students who wanted to participate to express themselves, according to the message.