Dozens of New Canaan High School students are planning to walk out of school for 17 minutes next week, as part of national protest to what organizers describe as inaction in Congress in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
Emily Dowdle, a NCHS junior who has helped organize the EMPOWER Youth School Walkout with classmate Emily Shizari, said details still have to be worked out, though the walkout will be held at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14, at the flagpole out front of the main entrance. As with other walkouts planned at high schools throughout the United States that day, it will last 17 minutes—one minute for each of those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland—and could include a moment of silence, speakers and reading of a poem, Dowdle said.
Asked what she felt was happening now that prompted student walkouts, Dowdle noted that the social media hashtag associated with the movement is ‘#ENOUGH.’
“I think people were hopeful that things would change after enough shootings, but I think they feel like they have not,” she said. “And I know Connecticut has the strongest gun laws, but in a lot of states that has not changed and I think a lot of people are getting frustrated with that. And then you have the high schoolers who are the future leaders of this country and future voters, and I think our country is very open about giving us voices and they [Parkland students] really took a leadership role in this.”
NCHS observed a moment of silence the day after the Florida shooting, Dowdle said, and then the district went on its regularly scheduled Feb break. Even so, many people talked about Parkland on social media and after Shizari posted on Instagram that she felt the need to do something, a public Facebook group materialized and the local student body picked up on the walkouts scheduled elsewhere.
Shizari, who described her generation as committed to making change, said the Parkland students who have spoken out against gun violence have been more vocal than groups of young people in the past.
“Especially with Sandy Hook so close to home, it feels very real,” she said, adding that she felt “it was really important, that we need to make the change happen.”
Asked how fellow NCHS students have reacted to the planned walkout, Shizari said many have said they want to participate.
“I think that’s great, that we are getting a lot of people who want to help and it is totally respectful in that if they do not want to do it, want to stay in the classroom and not go,” then that is absoultely fine, Shizari said.
“But I feel a lot of kids I know have been affected by this and it is very unifying to take part in it,” she said.
As of Monday night, 164 Facebook users—including students as well as other town residents—indicated that they planned to attend the NCHS walkout, while another 100 listed themselves as “interested” in participating.
Dowdle said that administrators have expressed concerns about pedestrian safety, with what could be hundreds of people walking across an access road at NCHS and even spilling onto others that regularly see vehicular traffic. It’s possible that police may be asked to assist by shutting down the main access road at 11 Farm Road in order to ensure safety, she said.
“It’s all voluntary so we really don’t know how many will actually show up,” she said.
The topic of the walkout arose at Monday night’s regular meeting of the Board of Education, though only the superintendent of schools and a single school board member, Maria Naughton, appeared willing to discuss it.
Naughton said the Connecticut Association of the Boards of Education, or ‘CABE,’ had provided guidance on implications from youth walkouts, which are planned throughout the nation (with a limited number planned internationally).
Saying they would need to read through the guidance itself, no one on the Board of Ed seconded Naughton’s motion to add a discussion item on CABE to the group’s agenda.
When Naughton noted that CABE had emailed the guidance to superintendents and school board chairpersons earlier in the day, New Canaan Board of Ed Chair Dionna Carlson said she’d been in meetings and was unable to read through emails.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi said that although he was not prepared to get into the specifics of CABE guidance, he could talk about the planned walkout more generally.
“I know it I something that has been discussed at the high school and that Mr. Egan has been meeting with students and discussing the participation and what it might look like, what that might be, and I can give a little bit of an update there,” Luizzi said.
However, Carlson said she and Luizzi would look at it and “report back via email to the board.”
(The guidance document from CABE, obtained by NewCanaanite.com, is about 2.5 pages long—mostly bulleted lists—and includes advice such as “good communication in advance with all stakeholders” and “appreciation of the sincere concerns that underlie the planned walkouts and consideration of ways to give voice to those concerns without disruption.”)
Asked what it’s like to be a high school student now, Dowdle said, “I can definitely feel tensions are rising,” especially in the wake of a scary incident in nearby Westport, where a high school student last week threatened violence, triggering an early dismissal, police investigation and review of safety measures.
“I was in sixth grade when Newtown happened, so we’re definitely a lot more open to discussions about school safety,” Dowdle told NewCanaanite.com in an interview. “New Canaan High School has done such a wonderful job about making sure we feel safe. We have such great security faculty and psychologists and nurse and everyone.”
Dowdle said students have benefitted from an advisory class that’s designed to build connections with trusted adults, and that NCHS Principal Bill Egan has met with every grade to reinforce the practice of “see something, say something” that authorities say played an important role in preempting any potential tragedy at Staples High School.
“He [Egan] talks about how we should always feel we can approach an adult at school and say what we are feeling,” she said.
The last time NCHS students walked out during school hours was in December 2014, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer in connection with the death of Eric Garner. On that day, about 200 students missed the final period of school.