A group of approximately 50 students at Great Neck North High School walked out of school Thursday afternoon to protest gun violence and call for increased gun safety.
“Today we are rallying together and using our unified voice to demonstrate that we are a force to be reckoned with, and our representatives in government need to deal with that in the most serious manner possible, because we will be voting for them in the next couple elections,” said Chloe Heiden, 16, a sophomore and event organizer.
The walkout echoed similar protests that took place on Long Island and across the nation in the wake of the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida; organizers say it was the first such protest to occur on Long Island since a May 18 shooting that left 10 people dead at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.
The Great Neck North students left their campus shortly after 1 p.m. and headed to nearby Village Green Park. There, they were joined by community officials, elected officials and those who have been affected by gun violence.
The students called for stricter gun-control legislation and had voter-registration sheets available, similar positions to those taken March 24, when thousands of people across Long Island joined in the national March for Our Lives event. Some student groups traveled to Washington, D.C., at that time to press lawmakers to take action.
Great Neck North High School students earlier in March had observed 17 minutes of silence for the Parkland students, along with students in districts across Long Island, the state and nation, who held vigils and walkouts to memorialize the 17 people shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“We didn’t feel like it was enough,” said Maytal Reiss, 16, a junior and event organizer. “I think we all know that we’re not going to change the world overnight, but I think that we’re all hoping that we can make a difference.”
Paul Guttenberg of Commack, whose niece Jamie Guttenberg was killed in the Parkland shooting, spoke at the event and lauded the students’ efforts.
“Many of these kids speak better and work harder than our current politicians, and I feel any type of change that will be made, it will be a direct result of the youth movement,” he said. “You get 20 kids here, 30 kids there, that will make the difference in the election.”
Heiden said she had met with administrators in advance of the walkout who told her they were not sanctioning the walkout, but agreed not to penalize students who participated other than marking them down as cutting class. District officials did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Avalon Fenster, 16, a sophomore at The Stony Brook School and a founder of March for Our Lives Long Island said the walkout helped to keep the message alive. “It says a lot that nearly four months after the Parkland shooting, people are still paying attention, people still care,” she said.
The student-led group, which formed shortly after the Parkland shooting, co-sponsored the Great Neck walkout. They have about 2,000 members in 60 schools on Long Island and continue to gain momentum, organizers said.
Fenster said she is hearing that students from across Long Island plan to wear orange on Friday to kick off Gun Violence Awareness Month.
And New Yorkers Against Gun Violence on Saturday is hosting a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, according to the website of the nonprofit advocacy organization.
“In order for there to be real, tangible change, and for there to be continued conversations, we have to continue the conversations,” Fenster said. “It has to be a series of events. We have to keep up the momentum, because otherwise it’s just going to die out.”
With Tory N. Parrish