School students around Connecticut joined a national school walkout in protest against gun violence Wednesday. But the way the event was handled by school administration varied widely from district to district.
Students at Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy walked out of school at 10:00 am, to mark one month since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
The Hartford Public School district supported the student-led movement and Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said she’s proud of the way they’ve responded.
“Students have examined critically a problem that’s happening across our nation and they are determining ways that they can change [it],” she said.
Each victim of the Parkland shooting was honored with a short description of their lives and a sign with their pictures. A bell rang 17 times for the 17 victims killed last month.
Students had some guidelines for the event; they had to remain on school property and they had to go back to the classroom afterwards.
Essence Freeman is a senior at Hartford Magnet. She said different grades started to plan things on their own and joined forces to put the walkout together.
“I initially put in the group chat, ‘hey guys let’s get together,’ and ended up blowing in this huge movement, other grades were planning to do this on their own so it was really good to see our school come together and be able to do this,” she said.
Governor Dannel Malloy and Hartford’s Mayor Luke Bronin were present and applauded students for their courage and activism.
The story was a little different in Wallingford. There, the district had made clear that if students walked out, they’d be disciplined.
Will Terzi is a senior at Sheehan High School in Wallingford. He wanted to walk out of school to stand in support of the students in Parkland, Florida. Instead, he chose to participate with other related activities, which were sanctioned by the district.
“I think what we did today was productive, and I do think what we did today sent a good message,” said Terzi.
He said it wasn’t the threat of discipline that kept him inside, but he was still wondering if he made the right call.
“I’m happy that I helped with the voter registration thing, but I am still wrestling with that,” he added.
After hearing about the national walkout, district administrators invited some students to a meeting where they came up with alternative options. Voter registration and a letter-writing campaign to lawmakers were two options the students came up with.
After that meeting, though, high school administrators sent out a letter to parents, warning that for any student who walked out “disciplinary consequences will be imposed.”
But that didn't stop some students.
Ryan Busilli helped organize a walkout at Sheehan, which drew about 40 students. He said he was willing to take whatever consequences came with it.
“There were a lot of people watching from inside the building, a lot of teachers and administrators, and we didn’t really get greeted by applause or boos when we walked in, but I think they respected our right to protest,” he said.
Salvatore Menzo is superintendent in Wallingford. He said the message from the district shouldn’t have been one focused on consequences.
“Wallingford is a community that does talk about issues, and we do get involved, but not in a way that’s meant to obstruct, but meant to be collaborative," said Menzo. "So if that was the misstep, I’m sorry, but I don’t think it was a misstep to intend to take away anybody’s rights or to squelch anybody’s beliefs.”
He said he’s unsure what discipline the students who walked out will face, if any.