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Conn. students participate in school walkouts

Media: Connecticut Post

WESTPORT — About a dozen parents stood across from Staples High School Wednesday morning. The group of mothers and fathers turned out despite the chilly weather in support of the nationwide student-led walkout against gun violence while Staples students gathered in the fieldhouse.

Gun violence prevention groups across the country organized the March 14 movement, which called on students to walk out of school at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes in remembrance of the 17 students and staff members killed in the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Darcy Hicks, a Staples mom and gun-violence prevention activist who organized the parents gathered across from the high school, said she was disappointed with the school’s purported efforts to keep politics out of the students’ speeches at the gathering in the fieldhouse.

“It’s hard to say what’s going on without talking about politics,” Hicks said. “If anything good is coming from this, it’s bringing to light the question of when is it OK to be political and when is it necessary to break the rules and be civilly disobedient for a cause that’s important to you.”

In a March 6 email to parents, Superintendent of Schools Colleen Palmer outlined the guidelines for students who wished to participate in the walkout.

“While our district does not condone school walkouts, we are especially sensitive to how our students are processing and reacting to not only the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, but also the issue at Staples High School last week,” Palmer wrote, the latter in reference to the Feb. 28 incident in which a Staples student with thoughts of allegedly executing a mass shooting at the high school was taken into custody.

Palmer said the Staples leadership team was working with students to plan thoughtful, focused events for the morning of March 14 that allowed students to voice their concerns and honor the memory of the Parkland victims.

“For safety and security reasons, we request that parents and outside visitors refrain from coming to our schools during this time. Beyond our own Inklings student press, no press will be permitted on any school site,” Palmer wrote.

With multiple police cars guarding the entrances to Staples, press was unable to observe the student walkout, which took place in the fieldhouse, as opposed to outside as occurred at schools across the country. Neither Palmer not Principal James D’Amico returned multiples requests for comment.

Hicks’ son, Theo Koskoff, delivered a speech — the contents of which was provided to the Westport News after the protest — first thanking the administration for their cooperation in organizing the event and then criticizing their attempts to ensure apolitical discourse.

“Instead of voicing our political opinions and exercising our right to free speech, the administration has encouraged us to hide any debate or confrontation behind a thin veil of artificial unity. This same thin veil has left a barren landscape, a political vacuum which the NRA (National Rifle Association) has exploited to its maximum capacity, killing 90 people every day in the process,” Koskoff said, citing a data from the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention that, on average, 96 Americans are killed by guns daily.

Koskoff continued, “I would now like to invite students here to exercise their freedom of speech and to lie down to protest the stifling of political confrontation which has done nothing but strengthen the omnipresence of gun violence in the United States.”

Following the senior’s remarks, those in the auditorium collectively sat down. (While Wesport News — and all other media — was barred from school grounds, video of the protest is available at Inkling’s Facebook page).

While parents were not allowed to attend the student demonstration, Hicks said she was proud of the speech her son prepared, including calling out the administration.

“Preventing debate and stifling people from speaking about something like gun violence is the most political thing you can do,” Hicks said. “Our whole problem is the question of what’s too political anymore. I don’t see dead children as being too political to talk about.”

Fellow Staples mom Sarah Green-Motyl was similarly frustrated by the school’s response to the walkout.

“I understand Dr. Palmer feels she needs to protect our children, and she’d doing a great job of that. But, on the other hand, I want to show solidarity with the children across the country,” Green-Motyl said. “I feel I need to support whatever they feel they need to do to protect themselves. It’s horrifying we have to watch our children fighting to protect their lives. To be afraid to go to school is a disgrace.”

Westporter Sarah Manning, who has four kids, the eldest in middle school, said students in other parts of the country faced the threat of suspension for walking out and said she was pleased with the Westport School District’s relatively-supportive response to student participation in the movement. Manning said her primary purpose for attending the parent “walkout” was to support the student protesters.

Fellow Westporter Maggie Mudd said she stood outside Staples because students are at the center of — and the leaders of — the movement against gun violence prevention.

“I’m so proud of America’s youth for standing up on this gun issue. They’re not easily dissuaded and I think our generation has been morally bankrupt on the issue of gun control,” said Mudd, whose children recently graduated from Westport schools. “The least I can say to the children fighting is keep going.”

Elected to the Representative Town Meeting in November, Greens Farms resident Nicole Klein wore a “Protect Children, Not Guns” shirt and waved a small American flag at the protest.

“I brought an American flag because I believe in America and, to me, one of the most important things is protecting our children, which is a true American value,” Klein said.

svaughan@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2638; @SophieCVaughan1

Staff reporter Justin Papp contributed to this story.