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Shelter Island students join nation-wide walk out

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Shelter Island students marching this morning from the school down Route 114.

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO Shelter Island students marching this morning from the school on Route 114.

“Adults love us when we have high test scores but hate us when we have strong opinions.”

That was among the signs carried by Shelter Island students Wednesday morning who walked out of school at 10 a.m. as a sign of solidarity, remembering those who were murdered in Parkland, Florida a month ago.

They also held signs bearing the names of those killed at Sandy Hook and Columbine. The short march was orderly and silent in the cold, bright day. The students joined thousands who walked out of school today across the country on Wednesday morning.

Following a brief walk to the library and back around to the school, 18 students, three teachers, School Board member Cathleen Lynch and resident Rob Ferris participated in a teach-in in the school auditorium.

Emotions and frustrations were aired about those who have only “thoughts and prayers” to offer victims and their families, but not actions the students believe could stop the violence.

They returned from their brief school-sanctioned walkout expressing feelings of pride for standing up for their beliefs, but also disgust that so many adults won’t take action to try to curtail violent actions.

While the students didn’t need any encouragement to speak their minds, teachers Devon Treharne, Lynne Colligan and Laura Leever facilitated the discussion.

Politicians need money to support their campaigns and a lot of the money comes from those who don’t want any changes to gun laws, one student said.

“They didn’t even change the age [at which guns can be purchased]”, another said. “They couldn’t even do that.”

That some media outlets carried stories after Parkland saying students protesting there were frauds was “terrifying,” another student said. But that’s something that’s not unique to the Parkland shootings, a student said.

Talking with her father, she said she learned that after Sandy Hook, there were similar accusations by some media outlets.

A student compared the United States to Canada, noting that while it’s a large country similar to the U.S., its people don’t tend to turn to guns because they have a social structure that makes them feel secure. She pointed to universal health care and mental health facilities among the services Canadians receive that Americans don’t.

Another student pointed out that Americans’ relationship to guns is deep-rooted; at the base of the problem is fear that makes people think they need guns to protect themselves.

Ms. Leever urged the students to keep speaking up and to remember to vote when they reach 18.

“Most adults don’t even know they have the power,” she said.

The next step for the Shelter Island students is to come up with ideas for an April 20 observance. Among the ideas offered Wednesday were to:
• Write letters to legislators and families of victims of school shootings.
• Create a memorial wall with signs and memorials recognizing victims.
• Hold another, larger teach-in to discuss the issues surrounding gun violence.

As happened with the Wednesday event, decisions on how to observe April 20 will come from students, but be vetted by Superintendent Christine Finn and faculty members to ensure whatever is done is respectful and safe.