Students in local schools will continue to press for gun control and improved school safety through another round of walkouts and rallies scheduled for Friday.
Niskayuna and Saratoga Springs students plan to hold rallies outside their respective town halls, while students from other regional districts are joining forces for a demonstration outside the state Capitol.
The local walkouts, coming more than a month after students in schools across the nation left class in droves, again mirror national efforts to focus political attention on stricter gun laws. Friday marks the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting, which set off dramatic changes in school safety and emergency preparedness that have shaped the lives of today's students.
The walkouts promise to be more politically charged events, as students shed the neutrality they articulated during March 14 walkouts that were organized as commemorations of those killed in a February school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“We wanted to come together as the whole entire Capital District and different schools -- to come together as one unified body,” Bethlehem senior Lydia Martell said during an interview last month with organizers of the Albany event. “We thought that would just make a louder noise: coming together and gathering at the Capitol.”
A pair of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – the site of the February shooting that sparked a nationwide student movement – plan to attend the Albany event, Martell said. Lilly Hutton, a senior at Columbia High School in East Greenbush, tracked down the Florida students through social media, and they agreed to join the Albany event.
After leaving school early in the morning, or skipping school all together, the students plan to convene at West Capitol Park for around three hours of protest, speeches, music and voter registration.
“This is supposed to be a full-day showing that we’re not going to back down; we’re not just here until our attention span distracts us,” said Caroline Crowell, a junior at Albany Academy. “We are going to be here. We are going to stay here, stay raising our voices … Some people might think it’s excess to be doing multiple things – like why do you need to walk out of school twice. It’s because we are showing we are not backing down.”
A group from Niskayuna plans to hold a rally at Niskayuna Town Hall, marching out of class Friday morning and calling for stronger gun laws. The students have lined up speakers that will include students, community members and gun violence victims, student organizer Suzie Davis said. The students also plan to register voters at the rally.
In Saratoga Springs, students are organizing a similar event outside City Hall. The Saratoga students plan to skip the entire school day, rallying for stronger gun laws from 10 a.m. to noon. Student organizer Matthew Taylor said all residents are invited to the event.
“Stand up. Show up,” said a flier for the Saratoga event. “Skip school and go to City Hall for gun violence prevention.”
While many administrators tacitly endorsed the March 14 walkouts and spared students punishment – though not all districts – they are saying that Friday will be treated as a regular school day, and students who participate in walkouts or rallies will be given an unexcused absence. Those absences are disciplined under codes of conduct, which spell out a range of consequences, including detentions, and take into account each student's history of missing school days.
“April 20th will be treated like a normal school day, so students will face the same disciplinary consequences as any other day,” Saratoga Springs school district spokeswoman Maura Manny said on Monday, citing the district's code of conduct.
Matt Leon, Niskayuna school district spokesman, also said students would be given an unexcused absence for leaving class and would be disciplined under the code of conduct.
Many of the organizers of Friday’s events also helped organize the first round of walkouts last month; some of them organized bus transportation to Washington for a March 24 rally outside the U.S. Capitol, while others organized a sister march in Albany. The student organizers, who have connected through social media, expect the Friday walkouts to be smaller events, compared with last month’s walkout to honor the Parkland students. But they also hope the walkouts will more closely convey the kind of stand they wish to make.
Many students said the March 14 walkouts were overly influenced by school and district administrators, who worked with students to address safety and other concerns.
“This is more about actually having that student voice that we originally wanted and didn’t get to have,” said Albany High School senior Erin Lippitt. “That’s why a lot of us want to be involved now, because we see what our schools did and how we were censored and how we want to push past that and show our full support.”
District officials are also getting into the safety issue this week, with community forums on school safety scheduled at Mohonasen, Scotia-Glenville and Shenendehowa schools. The events will focus on what districts are doing to keep students safe and will look to engage residents in discussions about how to improve safety.
The Mohonasen event is slated for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Mohonasen High School. The Scotia-Glenville school district is hosting a similar event at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Scotia-Glenville Middle School auditorium. The Shenendehowa Central School Board of Education will host a school safety forum, open to the public, at 6:30 p.m. in the Gowana Middle School auditorium on Shen’s main campus off of Route 146.
The following day, Shenendehowa students plan to walk out of class at 1 p.m.
“Motivated by the memories of the past and the voices of our contemporaries, the student organizers at Shenendehowa ask for an end of gun violence in our lifetime,” the Shenendehowa organizers wrote in a public statement last week.
The organizers also outlined their demands for local, state and federal officials: include money in the Shenendehowa budget for devices that make it harder for an intruder to enter classrooms; increase the waiting time to purchase firearms in New York; boost school funding for smaller classes, increased counselors and psychologists and improved security; and ban teachers from having firearms on school property.
But the students also acknowledged not all students will share those demands, and they said they aimed for the event to be inclusive off all students.
“We want all voices to be represented,” they wrote. “The walkout is not anti-gun, nor is it pro-gun. At its core, the walkout is a way to promote dialogue and spark change.”