By Sophie Driscoll ’19
Principal James D’Amico sent an email explaining that students who leave the Staples High School campus on April 20 to participate in the National School Walkout will receive unexcused absences for the remainder of their classes that day, will not be allowed to return to campus that day and will not be allowed to participate in any school-sponsored activities that day.
The walkout, which is being organized by students at Ridgefield High School, will occur on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. According to the National School Walkout website, nationwide participants will walk out of their schools at 10 a.m., spend 13 seconds in silence to honor the 13 people killed at Columbine High School and engage in voter registration. Nationwide participants will not return to their classes after the walkout has commenced.
According to D’Amico, safety concerns and potential disruptions to students’ education are the two primary reasons that student walkouts are considered a violation of Board of Education Policy.
“We understand that some of you, because of the passion you have about issues facing our country today, may feel motivated to take actions that run counter to our policies,” D’Amico wrote. “We applaud that engagement, but cannot condone disruptive and potentially unsafe actions, whether it is motivated by concern over gun violence or any number of other important issues.”
Despite D’Amico’s email, a group of nine students is currently organizing a walkout for Staples students. D’Amico said that a few students asked him to clarify the school’s policies regarding the walkout, but no organized plans to walk out have been shared with him.
“Our current plan is to walk out of class at 10 a.m. and head to the Town Hall,” Eliza Oren ’21, one organizer of the Staples walkout, said. “At the Town Hall, we will listen to speakers with unique perspectives, make signs, get people to register to vote and contact our representatives via Twitter, email and phone. After, we will walk back to school in time for the end of the day.”
Oren stated that she understands the rationale behind D’Amico’s email, but believes that students should not be discouraged from participating in the walkout. “This can seem unsafe, especially because if we get hurt, they are in charge of us,” Oren said. “I just think it’s kind of ironic because we are walking out in the first place for our safety […] Students shouldn’t have to sacrifice opportunities just to use their voice and speak out about issues they believe in.”
However, some students have expressed the belief that sacrifice is a necessary element of the fight for change.
“The fact of the matter is that protest comes with consequences, and if there are no consequences, it truly wouldn’t be a protest,” Brooke Kessler ’18, another organizer of the Staples walkout, said. “I totally understand if people do not want to participate, but I am not discouraged by [D’Amico’s] email.”
Staples administration supported student participation in the walkout that took place on March 14, during which students walked into the field house. D’Amico said that administration will not consider allowing students to walk into the field house on April 20. This is one of multiple ways in which the upcoming walkout differs from the previous walkout, according to student organizers.
“This walkout will be more of a protest,” Oren said. “There will be chanting, marching and signs. While we will have a few speakers, our main focus is action from students right there on the spot.”
Although the upcoming walkout is being organized differently from the previous walkout, D’Amico does not perceive a difference in the way administration is treating the two walkouts.
“It was clear based on various social media posts and others involved in the community that April 20th was going to be specifically a political protest, where on March 14th there seemed to be more sentiment that many students wanted a memorial for those lives lost in Parkland,” D’Amico said. “I think that there is also a significant difference in March, the nationwide feeling was for that event to last seventeen minutes.”In his email, D’Amico wrote that Staples administration supports students’ rights to free speech and expression but ultimately prioritizes creating a safe educational environment above all else.
“Our goal is not to be punitive, but to meet our mandate of providing a safe environment in which you can learn,” D’Amico wrote. “My hope is that this message addresses questions or concerns that you have about the upcoming nationally publicized school walkouts, and that this information will help you facilitate a discussion with your parents and peers about the best choices to make on April 20 and thereafter appropriately to express your concerns over gun violence or any other societal issue we confront.”