More than 20 Weber Middle School and Schreiber High School students walked out of school on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre, along with students across the nation to protest congressional, state and local failures to take action to prevent gun violence.
Weber eighth grader Abraham Franchetti and Schreiber high schooler Sydney Kass organized walkouts in their schools despite lack of support from the school district. Students walked down Campus Drive, across Port Boulevard and down Main Street to the Port Washington Public Library, chanting protests like, “What do we want? Gun Reform. When do we want it? Now.” while one student read gun violence statistics aloud through a bullhorn.
“This is a cause that means a lot to me because of all of the students who have died and all the people across the country who have died over the years to gun violence,” said Franchetti. “Forty-seven people are shot everyday and we want to change that. The school might be trying to silence us because it’s not convenient for them but we actually want to make real change.”
The walk-out came only two months after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and one month after the student-led walkout on March 14 and the March For Our Lives event on March 24.
After Franchetti attended the March For Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., he signed Port Washington up for the national walkout on www.nationalschoolwalkout.net and met with Weber Principal Christopher Shields twice to discuss the walkout. However, Shields told Franchetti and his fellow organizers the school would not condone the walkout.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kathleen Mooney had previously issued a statement that said, “The Port Washington School District does not condone a full-day student walkout on Friday, April 20, as it could negatively impact classroom learning. Furthermore, student safety is of utmost concern should students choose to leave campus without permission for the entire day.”
After the meetings with his principal, Franchetti attempted to find another location for students to go after the walkout to complete the rest of the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. day’s activities, which included writing letters to officials who support the NRA including Ted Cruz, Roger Wicker and Richard Shelby, NRA aligned corporations including Amazon, Omni Hotels and FedEx and weapons retailers and investors in an attempt to persuade them to discontinue their support of the NRA. The Port Washington Public Library allowed the students to utilize the Teen Space and other locations to make phone calls and write emails and letters, even to local officials who oppose the NRA including Senators Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, thanking them.
“The library is a community center for debate and free expression,” said Director of the Port Washington Public Library Nancy Curtin. “We are proud that the students chose us as their trusted public institution.”
Students shared why walking out was so important to them despite the potential consequences.
“I feel like a lot of people didn’t come because they were afraid of the punishment that our school is going to enforce, but quite honestly, I’m willing to risk three detentions for the 7,000 lives lost to gun violence,” said Margaret Harper.
“Not just for us but for future generations like our children, I don’t want them to have to go to school and suffer what we’ve gone through,” said Schreiber High Schooler Hannah Gaidis. “There haven’t been any gun violence incidents in Schreiber or in Port Washington necessarily, but I know people who attend Stoneman Douglas High School. It’s more than just us. I’m going to quote Emma Gonzalez, ‘adults enjoy when children have strong academics but disagree when we have strong opinions.’”
Schreiber students explained that they would receive one detention for every class they missed. Franchetti said he and other middle schoolers received three detentions for walking out.
“Violent gun shootings against children, it shouldn’t be something we’re allowing to happen now,” said Niki Gilman. “Some of our teachers have been a lot more understanding than others, so some of our teachers have openly let us leave to go.”