Fairfield County students heed call for nationwide March 14 walkout
By Justin Papp and Linda Conner LambeckUpdated
At 9:52 a.m. on Wednesday the front entrance at Shelton High will swing open and students will be free to file out for is likely to be the most wide-spread and orchestrated student walk out one can imagine.
Some are expected to hoist signs, while others gather around a podium.
Every minute between 10 a.m. and 10:17 a.m., the name of one of the victims in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla., will be read by members of the Shelton High School student council as a flower is added to a vase set on a table.
In Stratford, walkouts at both Stratford and Bunnell High School will take the form of a 17-minute vigil to honor the lives lost.
Though reminiscent of a 2003 student walk out to protest the first Gulf War, there will be no suspensions handed out this time around. In fact, Stratford School Superintendent Janet Robinson plans to participate.
“This event is to honor the lives lost,” Robinson said. “These students, as are the Parkland students, are articulate and thoughtful. I am certain they will make a difference.”
Walkouts are planned across the region and across the country. Even at some elementary schools.
“We are planning to form a student circle outside of our building,” Chandra Maxwell, a seventh grade language arts teacher at Barnum School in Bridgeport, said.
Open to all grades, the theme of the Barnum walkout is "GUNS DOWN, GRADES UP!" and will include a moment of silence to remember all students who have been impacted by gun violence, Maxwell said.
Other students who have completed writing assignments which focus on gun violence, will read their work.
In Fairfield, Molly Baker, 18, a high school senior active in local politics, called this effort different.
“Because all of my peers have kept up,” said Baker. “All of my peers are coming up to me and asking me what I think about gun control… They really, really want to form their own opinion.”
Seizing the moment, Baker, along with classmate Nick Fech, were invited to participate in a roundtable on gun violence hosted by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut. They are part of a much larger group of young activists who are mobilize young people and affect real change for school safety.
“After Parkland, I was at the dinner table at my mother’s house and we were all talking about it, and I was just so inspired by these student activists (in Parkland),” said Katherine Lester, a Darien High School junior.
Even before Parkland, Lester was passionate about gun violence. Her grandfather, a police officer, was shot in the line of duty. She, along with Darien juniors Kate and Meaghan Dempsey, say they are alarmed at the way young people their age have become desensitized to mass shootings.
“We’re tired of being called the ‘mass shooting generation.’”Kate Dempsey said. “We’re tired of mass shootings just being notifications on our phones.”
“We want to make it clear that after the March 14 walkout, we’re not done,” Meaghan Dempsey said. “This is not the end.”
Baker, the Fairfield Ludlowe senior, still remembers her bus stopping on the way home from school in seventh grade when she heard through the murmurs of friends what had happened that day in Newtown. The passion generated at the time around the issue of school safety and gun control ebbed and flowed with every subsequent mass shooting.
“Things happen and then fizzle out. This time is different because everyone wants to be part of the change,” Baker said. More than 350 Ludlowe students have signed up to participate in the March 14 walkout. The event will include speakers, a voter registration table and a video chat with students and Jim Himes.
In addition, two busloads of Fairfield students plan to take a day trip to Washington, D.C., for another protest, the March For Our Lives rally on March 24.
“It’s not partisan, it’s about kids feeling safe,” the Fairfield teenager added.
In a Tuesday email sent to Westport parents, Staples High School Principal James D’Amico said that while the school did not condone student walks there is a recognition that students want to stand in solidarity with their counterparts at Douglas High School on the one month anniversary of the shouting.
As such, the Staples administration has worked with students who intend to participate. So too have administrators in Fairfield, Shelton, Stratford and Bridgeport.
In Trumbull and Weston, the media has been asked to stay away from the event. In Shelton, there will be a police presence at the walk out. Students who choose not to participate will remain with their homeroom. At 10:18, the plan is for students to quietly walk back into the school.
Fairfield Warde Headmaster David Ebling said plans are in place for students who decide to stay indoors.
“We have some students that really want to participate. We have other students that are not comfortable doing that for a variety of reasons,” Ebling said. “It’s been amazing how articulate they are and how passionate they are about the cause. I think they’ll impress us all.”
Fairfield Ludlowe Headmaster Greg Hatzis said in his career he’s never seen students engage to this degree.
“This issue has incredible staying power and you just feel that there’s a connection among the students of all the same age across a large part of the country,” the headmaster said.