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Walkouts over school shootings, guns: What are students planning in Central NY?

By Sarah Moses Buckshot and Samantha House,

When 17 people were gunned down last month in a Florida high school, students there and many across the nation made a demand: never again.

Many Central New York students will join thousands across the country and walk out of classes at 10 a.m. Wednesday to mark the one-month anniversary of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Students will walk out for 17 minutes — one minute for each person killed in the Florida shootings.

EMPOWER, the youth branch of Women’s March, organized the nationwide event called “ENOUGH: National School Walkout.” The goals of the protest — although debated and varied — are to remember the Parkland victims and advocate for gun control laws.

Where are walkouts planned in CNY?

More than 2,800 walkouts have been scheduled with 14 protests expected to take place in Central New York, according to the group’s website.

Many of the events were created by students. EMPOWER has warned participants that the events are not necessarily school-sanctioned walkouts.

For example, a walkout dubbed #NeverAgain@Nottingham at William Nottingham High School in Syracuse is listed on EMPOWER’s protest map. But Michael Henesey, a district spokesman, said no walkouts have been planned in the Syracuse City School District.

Here are the CNY schools with walkouts listed by EMPOWER:

  • Moravia Central School in Moravia, Cayuga County
  • Cortland Junior-Senior High in Cortland, Cortland County
  • Oneida High School in Oneida, Madison County
  • Donovan Middle School in Utica, Oneida County
  • Cicero-North Syracuse High School in Cicero, Onondaga County
  • Jamesville-DeWitt High School in DeWitt, Onondaga (scheduled for April 20)
  • William Nottingham High School in Syracuse, Onondaga County
  • Mynderse Academy in Seneca Falls, Seneca County
  • Trumansburg Central School District in Trumansburg, Tompkins County
  • Dryden High School in Dryden, Tompkins County
  • New Roots Charter School in Ithaca, Tompkins County
  • Ithaca High School in Ithaca, Tompkins County
  • Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Service, Town of Ithaca, Tompkins County
  • Newfield High School in Newfield, Tompkins County

It is likely there will be protests at other schools in Central New York in addition to those listed by EMPOWER.

School districts not supporting walkouts

Some school districts are discouraging students from walking out by offering alternative ceremonies or moments of silence.

The Baldwinsville Central School District does not encourage students to leave their buildings, Superintendent Matthew McDonald said in a message to parents.

“Leaving a school building during school hours without permission is a violation of the district’s code of conduct and poses a safety issue for students,” McDonald said. “Students who leave a building without permission on March 14 will be subjected to the consequences outlined in the district’s code of conduct.”

Building administrators at C.W. Baker High School, Durgee Junior High School and Ray Middle School have discussed the national walkout with their student leaders and have developed student-centered activities that they will conduct in the buildings to provide students with opportunities to express their solidarity and to remember the victims in a “safe, thoughtful and productive way,” McDonald said. He was unable to be reached for comment.

Students at Ray Middle School students may wear maroon, which is the school colors for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. At 7:35 a.m., there will be a moment of silence and during lunch periods, students can write encouraging messages on banners for the students in Florida. Students can also make cards in the library for Parkland students.

Fayetteville-Manlius schools Superintendent Craig J. Tice said students are entitled to exercise their First Amendment rights, but the district is not sponsoring a walkout and students who decide to participate in the walkout will be in violation of the code of conduct.

Tice, who was unable to be reached, told parents in a letter that any behavior that violates the code of conduct, such as skipping class or leaving campus, “may be subject to consequences.”

“That being said, the code of conduct affords school administrators wide discretion and latitude in deciding what consequences, if any, are merited for a particular infraction,” Tice said. “By not sponsoring the walkout and adhering to the code of conduct, the district does not waive its right to enforce the behavioral expectations therein (should a student commit a more serious infraction during the walkout) during this and or future events.”

Tice said faculty and staff are not permitted to participate in the walkout.

While faculty and staff may hold strong opinions about a given topic, they are required to maintain neutrality during the school day,” Tice said.

Tice said the district is concerned for student safety and will have internal venues available for student use for those who wish to congregate indoors for whatever reason. Faculty and staff who are not teaching at the time will be assigned in advance to provide direct supervision of the students in both of these venues.

Resource officers will be deployed as supervisors and the district has made contact with the town of Manlius Police to provide additional on-campus security, Tice said. School maintenance staff will restrict access to every school campus in order to limit vehicular traffic flow during the anticipated walkout, he said.

Unlike the public school superintendents, many colleges and universities across the country have said they will not penalize high school students applying for admissions if they participate in the walkouts and are disciplined.

Leaders at the Manlius Pebble Hill School, a private school in DeWitt, are supporting students who have organized an optional, peaceful assembly in honor of the Florida shooting victims. Students will leave classrooms to gather outside under the flagpole for 17 minutes, according to a spokesperson for the school.

Some students will hold signs that call for action to end gun violence, while others will prefer to observe 17 minutes of silence.

“We hope that by planning our own walkout, that we will be remembering those who passed and take a stand for stricter gun regulations,” said Charlie Mann, one of the student organizers. “While some may believe that remembrance and change do not go hand-in-hand, we believe that we must remember to inspire change in our society so that events like these never happen again.”

The walkout is not school-sponsored, but the administration is supporting the students.

“We welcome their interest in expressing both their solidarity with and sympathy for Parkland students and their desire to influence the political process,” said Head of School Jim Dunaway. “Our students are taking the lead in this, but we are emphasizing with them the importance of safety, civil discourse, and respect for students whether they participate or not.”