A Lindenhurst teen who was disciplined with other students for demonstrating in March against gun violence is running for school board in Tuesday’s elections.
Gabrielle Anzalone, 18, said her candidacy was prompted by her district’s decision to punish the students. But she said she is not a single-issue candidate: she’s running for a seat to better represent student voices in public education.
She is one of at least two high school seniors seeking seats on local boards of education next week.
She said she participated in the national school walkout on March 14, was suspended by school officials and given three days of detention for her action. Later, the district rescinded the punishment for students who walked out at the request of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Anzalone said that she had tried before the walkout to organize a movement at the high school but was rebuffed by school officials.
“It was definitely the start of it, but of course I am not doing this to spite the district,” she said. “It is almost like an awakening or an epiphany — ‘They didn’t listen to us.’ And the fact that there was no cooperation led me to think that there was no student representation on the board.”
The national walkout, which lasted 17 minutes for the 17 victims, was organized by students in the days after the deadly Parkland, Florida, rampage carried out by a former student who used a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle. Students across Long Island walked out of school buildings or participated in other demonstrations to remember the victims and call for greater gun safety.
Some districts had warned students they could face disciplinary action for walking out of class, and parents in at least three — Connetquot, Lindenhurst and Rocky Point — said their children had been disciplined.
Clinton Grant, principal of Lindenhurst High School, said in a statement that the district worked hard to ensure “the students’ needs are being heard and a common ground was found.”
He was “terribly disappointed to learn that a member of his student body felt as if she was not being heard on this matter, as a great effort was made to meet with student leadership, as well as students who personally reached out” to him, Grant said.
He said the district feels strongly that students should pursue their passions and get involved in the causes that mean the most to them and he finds it admirable that so many of them do.
Another 18-year-old, Kaitlyn Gambina of Mastic, is running for the board of education in the Eastport-South Manor School District, saying she thought it was a “great idea” to run, especially because the district is facing a deficit of more than $4 million.
“Our school needs a change and I think a student being part of the board will bring that change and help everybody,” she said. “We need a student’s point of view when it comes to making decisions. . . . It is not just a bunch of adults making decisions for children.”
School elections will be held Tuesday, when voters across Long Island choose from hundreds of candidates running for local boards of education.
Students, who must be 18 to run, have succeeded before, including state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who was a Mineola High School senior in 1972 when he became the first 18-year-old in the state to win a school board seat. Joshua Lafazan, who became Nassau’s youngest-ever county legislator when elected at age 23 in November, was elected as a high school senior in 2012 at age 18 to the Syosset Board of Education. He now represents Nassau’s 18th Legislative District.
Lafazan said there is a steep learning curve when joining a local board of education.
“You don’t have the life experience that your adults have and you play a lot of catch-up,” he said.
“I think young people are dismayed at the fact that millennials are the largest, most educated and most diverse generation in the history of this country, yet they are the most underrepresented demographic in politics today,” he said. “And we feel our government is not working for us and not working for anybody.”
Anzalone is running against Josephine Martino, 44, for the two-year term remaining on the Lindenhurst Board of Education for the seat previously held by Edward J. Murphy Jr.
“I admire what she is doing and her courage and what she is fighting for,” Martino said. “She is a very, very sweet young lady and I wish her the best of luck.”
Anzalone said she tried to reach school officials the day before the walkout but school was canceled for a snow day. She said she and about 30 others walked out and stayed silent outside for 17 minutes. When they returned to school, they were told they were suspended and were given an extended three-day detention, until it was rescinded.
After the walkout, Anzalone was approached by people she knew in the community who suggested she run, she said. Her family was supportive.
“This is where I grew up and these are people I know and they are my friends and people who raised me and educated me and I wanted to help them,” she said. “And that is when I 100 percent knew I wanted to run.”
After graduation, Anzalone will attend Molloy College in the honors program, majoring in political science and new media. She works part time at a Lindenhurst pizzeria.
In the Eastport-South Manor district, Gambina faces a field of five candidates running for two at-large seats, including Larry Brown Jr., 57; Christine Burst, 40; Marion Diener, 68; Tara Mazovec, 42; and Danielle Warsaw, 42. None is an incumbent.
Gambina said one of her goals is better communication within the district.
“So parents can be more involved in what their kids’ education can be and teachers can get their voice out there,” she said.
Another teen running this year is Kyle Singh, 18, a college freshman from Hicksville. He now attends Georgetown University but said he can fully commit to being on the board.
“I feel we need a fresh new face on the board,” said Singh, who also ran last year while a senior at Hicksville High School.