Students, teachers nationally and locally respond to the Florida school shooting with action

Feeling ignored by Congress, students nationwide are taking to the streets to advocate for safer schools.

At least three national student walkouts are planned this spring, beginning March 14 with a 17-minute walkout in silence in memory of the 17 students and teachers killed in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida.

Sponsored by the Action Network, an organization behind the January 2017 and 2018 women's marches around the world, the Women's March Youth EMPOWER is organizing events under the banner #ENOUGH: National School Walkout.

The march is calling for students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to take part in a #NationalSchoolWalkout at 10 a.m. across every time zone on March 14 — one month after the Parkland, Florida mass shooting — to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing schools and neighborhoods.

“We need action,” says its website. “Students and allies are organizing the national school walkout to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship.”

Most local schools are closed this week for the winter or presidents' week recess, but Canandaigua City School District Superintendent Jamie Farr said he and his administrative team are looking at ways for students and staff to show solidarity with the victims of Parkland, Florida.

Details have yet to be worked out, but ideas include sending a Canandaigua banner and sign to Marjory Stoneman High School to show support, and circulating a petition to deliver to a local politician calling for safer schools, which Farr said can mean things like school resource officers, fire arms regulations and additional mental health services. 

“If they're going to do it, we want it to be meaningful and serve a purpose,” Farr said. “We want to make sure that voices are heard and people can stand for what they believe in.”

He planned to have an initial meeting with his administrative staff later this week. He said they are planning to do something at every building where there is a desire to participate. He doesn't expect many of the youngest students to be involved, but said teachers and staff in those buildings may like to do something. 

Security has been beefed up in recent years at Canandaigua and many other area schools. Canandaigua has expanded its use of security cameras, has secure access control at each school entrance, has set up swipe card access at interior doors and has two well-trained school resource officers.

The district also participates in regular mandatory drills, including active shooter drills with local police. One was originally planned for this week, but Farr said Canandaigua City Police asked to postpone it — before the Florida shootings — because of limited officer availability during the vacation week.

“We've done a lot of things,” Farr said. “You always worry about safety. I have three of my own children that go to schools in this district. We believe we have a safe environment but, just like every school, there is no guarantee.”

He said he truly believes the greatest asset is creating a family atmosphere of love and respect, and focusing on giving people what they need to help them feel supported.

“There will always be fears as long as these things are happening,” Farr said. “If you live your life in fear, that's a personal decision. I think you can live your life aware. We cannot allay the fears. I think that's the society we live in. We hope it won't aways be that way.”

No schools in Ontario or Wayne counties have signed up, as of Tuesday, to indicate participation in the March 14 walkout yet, but three in Monroe County are registered: Sutherland High School in Pittsford; Fairport High School, under the banner “Lead the Change;” and the School of the Arts in Rochester as “SOTA Students Demand Gun Control.”

A group called March for Our Lives, started by students from Parkland and across the nation, is planning a march on Washington, D.C. on March 24 to demand that safety and the lives of kids and their families become a priority for government, to end gun violence and mass shootings in schools. 

Participants are invited to join the group in Washington or march in their own communities to make sure “the collective voices of the March for Our Lives movement will be heard.”

“Not one more,” says its website. “We cannot allow one more child to be shot at school. We cannot allow one more teacher to make a choice to jump in front of a firing assault rifle to save the lives of students. We cannot allow one more family to wait for a call or text that never comes. Our schools are unsafe. Our children and teachers are dying. We must make it our top priority to save these lives.”

A call for "mass action" is being made by the Network for Public Education for April 20 — the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado that left 12 students and one teacher dead.

The NPE is urging teachers, families, students, administrators and every member of the community to engage in acts of protest in and around their schools, suggesting they create actions that work best in their communities.

"Organize sit-ins, teach-ins, walkouts, marches — whatever you decide will show your school and community’s determination to keep our students safe," it encourages. "One elementary teacher suggested that teachers and parents link arms around the school to show their determination to protect children. It is time to let our legislators know that they must stand up to the gun lobby and enact meaningful reform to protect students and staff."

In conjunction with the April 20 call for action, Lane Murdock, a 15-year-old sophomore at Ridgefield High School in Ridgefield, Connecticut has started a petition on for a National High School Walk-Out for Anti-Gun Violence.

There were originally some posts about staying out of school until Congress takes action, which concerns Farr because there was no end point, but the website calls for students to walk out of school, wear orange and protest online or in their communities.

“We are the students, we are the victims, we are change, fight gun violence now,” Murdock, who launched the movement and petition to the U.S. Senate and President Donald Trump.

He acknowledges the majority of teenagers do not have a right to vote, leaving their voices unheard.

“The government does not hear or care how these tragedies affect our lives,” Murdock says. “There has been too much complacency on the part of politicians when it comes to gun violence. The time to act is now.”

Murdock lives less than 30 minutes away from Newtown, Connecticut, where 27 students and teachers were murdered by gunfire on Dec. 12, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.


Talking to children about violence: Tips for parents and teachers

• Reassure children they are safe

• Make time to talk

• Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate

• Review safety procedures

• Observe children's emotional state

• Limit television viewing during these events

• Maintain a normal routine 

Source: National Association of School Psychologists