On March 14, tens of thousands of students walked out of their schools for 17 minutes in response to concerns about safety and in memory of the 17 victims of the Parkland, FL shooting a month earlier. Additionally, another 1.2 million marched on Washington, DC and other locations on March 24.
The walkout and march demonstrated the leadership and activism of our young people, who exercised their Constitutional rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. I applaud the Parkland survivors for turning their trauma and grief into something inspirational and transformative.
I also commend their peers across the country for their peaceful and powerful display of unity – to demand action on an issue impacting their communities. We have not seen this level of youth activism since the Vietnam war.
In public education, we often speak about the importance and value of real-world or hands-on learning. This was indeed an example of that in action. Locally, students across our BOCES region organized a variety of activities on March 14. Many of them started with a moment of silence in honor of the victims of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Below is just a sampling of these events:
- Chatham High School students gathered quietly outside to form a circle, join hands, and stand together to promote school safety, acceptance and inclusion, and student empowerment.
- Columbia High School students organized a school-wide assembly called “We Rise: A Right to Safety” featuring several special guests including the Lt. Governor.
- Coxsackie-Athens students released one balloon each minute during a 17-minute period of silence in the memory of the victims.
- Hudson High School student speakers discussed the importance of strength and unity and the need to be agents of change.
- Ichabod Crane High School and Middle School students organized events to show solidarity with Parkland and sharing their perspective about the need for a safe school environment.
- Maple Hill High School and Middle School students used their voices to honor the memory of the Parkland victims and how anyone could have been the victims.
- Rensselaer High School students participated in a National Walk-Up. Student leaders challenged their peers to walk up to 14 students and 3 adults to say something nice.
- Taconic Hills students talked about school safety measures and the value of being kind to one another.
I also want to recognize the leadership of our local superintendents and principals in navigating this unprecedented issue. They worked to protect their students’ rights as citizens while ensuring their safety. They recognized that this was a teachable moment, with differing viewpoints, but within the confines of the school environment and code of conduct.
This was not an easy task, so I thank our superintendents and principals for meeting with student leaders to discuss their needs and plans. Ultimately, they kept the focus on teaching and learning while providing guidance to support student and staff safety.
In many cases, school districts provided an alternative indoor location to students gathering outside. School leaders were also careful to keep their distance from the political nature of gun control as school district support of political activities is prohibited.
In the end, the communication and cooperation among school and student leaders allowed these events to be peaceful and productive – a moment of learning, reflection and remembrance.
As you may know, many people have criticized these efforts. To me, this is where some empathy is needed. Many of today’s students live in fear. With active shooter drills and what seems to be weekly incidents across the country, school safety and the threat of violence continues to be a constant presence in their lives.
This student movement is all about saying enough is enough – that we need to address this issue once and for all. There is still a lot of work to do to ensure that all schools remain safe havens for our children. Please continue the dialogue with your students, parents, communities and elected officials.