While the nation is caught up in a debate over how to control gun violence, many parents on Long Island are weighing a side issue — whether to condone, encourage or forbid their children’s participation in a planned nationwide 17-minute student walkout during the school day on March 14.
A post about the topic on the Middle Country Moms Group Facebook page, for instance, garnered close to 300 comments and a spectrum of viewpoints. Some school districts have sent letters to parents regarding how they’ll manage students who choose to engage in the unsanctioned, grass-roots event, which was sparked by the Feb. 14 shooting that killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Here are five things to think about when making your family’s decision:
1. CONSIDER IF/WHY YOUR CHILD WANTS TO PARTICIPATE
It may not be to make a political statement, for instance, says Darryl St. George, a Northport High School history teacher and mentor for the student group SPICE, Students Promoting Inclusive Civic Engagement. It may be that your child just wants to honor 17 of their peers who were killed, and support the other Parkland students who suffered this loss. So even if you disagree with your child’s political viewpoint, the extent of and reasons for your child’s passion may influence your decision-making. By the same token, your child may not want to participate in the walkout at all. “I think it’s important we respect each other’s point of view,” St. George says. “If somebody is made to feel uncomfortable, that would be wrong.”
2. WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES FOR WALKING OUT?
Parents should check with their school district in advance to see what the repercussions will be. Huntington High School principal Brenden Cusack, for instance, said in a letter to parents that students who miss a class will be marked with an unexcused absence and any work missed will not be able to be made up.
As for those weighing college admissions decisions, some universities nationwide have assured high school students they won’t view them negatively if they participate. Hofstra University, for instance, said in a statement that “peaceful protests” will not jeopardize admission.
3. ARE THE CONSEQUENCES WORTH IT?
Kat Jaret of Centereach, a 38-year-old mother of four and a 1997 graduate of Newfield High School in Selden, says she staged a walkout in high school to honor a fellow student who had died. “I got suspended for it, and I would do it again, because it was something I believed in,” says Jaret, a customer service manager for an insurance company. “I don’t think any kid should necessarily defy authority, but by the same point, if you have a belief in something and you’re not hurting anyone, what’s the harm? They may be breaking the rules of the school, but they’re not defying the police.”
4. ARE THERE OTHER WAYS TO MEET THE SAME GOAL?
Some school districts are offering evening events before the walkout to give students a chance to voice their opinions. Northport High School, for instance, is sponsoring a student-led forum called “Safety and Security in our Schools and Communities.”
5. WILL YOUR CHILD BE SAFE?
You’ll want to know whether school staffers will be monitoring the students outdoors or if students participating will be given a specific area to gather.
Mount Sinai Senior High School, for instance, will be closed to visitors during the walkout. Staff will escort students to the school’s outdoor track, where participants will be encouraged to engage in 17 acts of kindness such as befriending someone new. School security and the Suffolk County Police Department will also be present, according to a letter issued by school principal Robert Grable.