Call it a walkout. Call it an assembly. Call it a memorial.
Whatever they call it, students and administrators are prepared for observances Wednesday in districts from Sharon Springs to Schenectady that could draw thousands of students out of class in solidarity with the victims of a Florida school shooting a month ago.
Student organizers and district leaders have largely hashed out plans for events to coincide with a national walkout movement. Students at some schools plan to leave class and gather at flagpoles or other central locations outside on school grounds, while other events will be held in auditoriums or other interior spaces in schools.
Student organizers have also walked a thin line of promoting the walkouts as memorials and remembrances, while also itching to push more aggressive gun control measures -- which will be the focus of future walkouts and protests, some students organizers have promised.
“We’re calling it political but not partisan,” student organizers in Saratoga Springs said last week of Wednesday's walkout.
In Sharon Springs, where 20 or more students are planning to walk out of class Wednesday, student organizers have faced questions from classmates who are concerned they are protesting for more restrictive gun laws.
But a trio of student organizers, all freshmen, said Tuesday the event is meant as a memorial for the victims of the Florida shooting. The students, who organized the walkout after seeing students plan walkouts in school across the region and country, said questions from classmates have sparked conversations about school safety.
“It’s a memorial for the people who were lost; it’s not about taking away the guns,” said Sharon Springs ninth-grader Isabella Schuler, one of the event’s organizers. “It’s about safety. It’s a memorial for people who were lost and [a call] for more safety.”
Sharon Springs Superintendent Patterson Green said the school is allowing the student walkout because students approached teachers and administrators about carrying it out in a positive way. He said Tuesday that he was working to get a police presence so students could hold their event
“There is a very fine line for the school district that we can’t endorse or support any political protest,” Green said. “We are trying hard to walk that fine line but also be supportive of students.”
The students said they want the focus to be on the victims, whose lives were cut short in the massacre, arguing that, often, too much media attention is given to those who commit mass shootings.
“When we are doing this walkout, we will be talking about the people who lost their lives, not the person who did the crime,” Schuler said. “It’s always been [the media] talking about the person who did it and not enough about the people who were lost; their whole lives were thrown away.”
The student organizers said they hope the emerging student activism continues. Students from Sharon Springs, Cobleskill and other districts are planning to join a March 24 demonstration in Cobleskill, one of many marches planned that day around the country.
“I feel like this is just the first step of showing community and that we want to do something about it, and we are ready to take a stand,” said Jillian Bent, another Sharon Springs freshman.
“This is just the start of trying to make a change we want,” said Emily Schuler, also a freshman.
A student walkout is also planned at Cobleskill-Richmondville High School, where students are planning to assemble at the flagpole in front of the school, district spokesman Bill DeVoe said Tuesday. Like at Sharon Springs and other schools, the students plan to observe a moment of silence and read the names and short biographies of the 17 Florida victims.
Schenectady students, who plan to walk out of class and gather at the school football field, are taking their plans a step further: The Schenectady student organizers have gathered the stories of 17 local people who have been killed by gun violence in recent years. They plan to share those stories alongside the stories of the Florida victims.
Students at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School aren’t planning to leave the school building, district spokesperson Tara Mitchell said on Tuesday. Students have instead organized a series of activities to correspond with national walkouts scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Participating students plan to leave class and meet at a central location in school, where they plan to sign a banner, write personal messages and cards to shooting victims and sell flower pots to raise money for a cause attached to the Florida victims, Mitchell said. The high school’s student leadership group, made up of student government and other organization leaders, planned the event and activities.
At Duanesburg Junior-Senior High School, students have planned a “brief assembly” to honor the Florida shooting victims, according to a message on the district's website. The assembly will include a safety presentation by state troopers, who will answer questions from students. The event is also meant to launch 17 days of “random acts of kindness.”
Plans for similar events are set in Scotia-Glenville and Schalmont school districts, as well as those that had been planned in Saratoga, Niskayuna, North Colonie and others. While many Fulton and Montgomery counties schools will not be in session Wednesday because of previously-planned teacher training days, a spokesperson at Broadalbin-Perth said students and administrators were discussing plans for an event in the coming weeks.