Darien High School students plan to join national walkout

The student reaction to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida has been on a scale not before seen. Students and members of that community held a town hall meeting with Senator Marco Rubio, which was broadcasted on CNN. Students in Florida have launched campaigns and efforts via social media to organize walkouts and marches to demand gun control reform, and those efforts have reached Connecticut. A student in Ridgefield, Lane Murdock, started a petition for a national student walkout on April 20, the anniversary of the shooting at Columbine. That petition now has over 200,000 signatures. Here, a committee of students, alongside the student council, is planning a walkout as well.

• Letter: Darien High School students implore community to protect their safety

The committee itself is comprised of Katherine Lester, Kate Dempsey, Meaghan Dempsey, Ria Dhull, Libby Markham, Libby Branka , Isabelle Hole, Lilliana Cullen, Nicholas Giotis, and others who requested not to be named. This is, however, just the members at DHS. These students have partnered with Augustus Doricko and James Pease of Stamford High School, Yaneira Torres, Rachel Deutsch, Samantha Hamilton, and Sahithi Kollipara of Westhill High School, Sophie Lindh and Willa Doss from Greenwich High School, and Juliana Burke and Seth Christofor from the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering. “These are people who come from two different parties, some have totally different views, but it’s amazing that we can come together on this to help each other,” said Lester, saying that it has been a true joint effort and grassroots movement.

NEWSFLASH: Darien High School principal alerts parents of “non-credible threat” investigated Tuesday

The walkout will take place on March 14, and will last 17 minutes to honor the 17 victims of the shooting in Parkland.

“In order for this to be a collaborative event, the students from AITE, Westhill, Greenwich, Stamford, and Darien will be wearing similar clothing and having similar speeches to show solidarity with each other and the Parkland victims,” said Lester.

Lester also told the Darien Times that this is really not a political movement.

• Darien Police assure the community of their school safety efforts

“People want to make this a left issue or a right issue. It’s not. It’s an American issue,” said Lester.

Three staff members were killed in the Parkland shooting, and ultimately they are in danger just as students are in the event of an intruder. This raises the question of whether or not teachers would also participate in the walkout. Lester said that teachers have been supportive of the students.

• NEWSFLASH: Statement from Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner on planned student walkout, says students will not be penalized

“It’s about the safety of not just students, but teachers. We want to make this apolitical, and we want to make this a joint effort that says, ‘we’re not alone in this,’” Lester added. Lester told the Darien Times that there was a rumor that teachers had been told not to participated or they might face action from their union, but school administrators say this is false. Jennifer Ladd, a history teacher at DHS, has said she will walk off the job on April 20 unless Congress has banned assault weapons by then.

“It’s not a town to town issue, it’s not a wealth issue, it’s an everyone issue,” said Lester.

Students from the committee met with Superintendent Dr. Dan Brenner and Darien High School Principal Ellen Dunn on Monday afternoon to discuss the walkout. In communities around the country, some school systems have threatened to suspend any student who takes part in any sort of protest or walkout, with schools in Texas and Wisconsin. As schools have done that, colleges and universities across the country have told high school students that their admission would not be jeopardized at all by a suspension related to the protest.

Brenner told students that they would not be suspended or academically harmed for participating in a walkout.  

“Dr. Brenner did mention that the Board of Education has a rule about students walking out and Dr. Brenner said that he would be willing to overlook that if the walkout is meaningful and not an excuse to miss class,” Lester said in an email to the Darien Times.

Students simply getting up and leaving school would not be as meaningful as observing those 17 minutes, hanging posters, and making speeches about their views.

The meeting with administrators also featured discussion about the safety protocols at Darien schools and ways in which they could be improved to make buildings safer. Brenner also said that following the walkout, the expectation is that students return to class, and that there would be in school programming to further allow students to use their voice on an issue that clearly means a lot to them. In a letter sent to parents on Wednesday, Brenner further commented on the walkout.

“This group is well organized and intend on sharing the purpose of the walkout with their peer group as a way to honor the 17 people who died in Parkland as well as advocating for school safety. The walkout is voluntary and will last 17 minutes. DHS’ school administration, faculty, and staff will follow-up with programming during the school day that will address safety concerns and questions raised by our students,” Brenner wrote, adding that, “Students who choose to participate in the walkout will not be penalized for the time out of class, with the expectation they will return to their classes at the conclusion of the 17 minutes.” He also added that DHS is not equipped to handle parents attending the walkout as well, and asked that they not attend. Brenner also commented on what is being done at other schools in the district on March 14th.

“At MMS, we do not feel it is developmentally appropriate for our students to participate in a walkout. Instead, on March 14th, we will take the opportunity to utilize an extended Flex period to have a thoughtful age appropriate discussion with the children about the role they can play toward making our schools emotionally and physically safe. At our elementary schools, we will continue to support our students in a safe learning environment. On March 14th, our faculty and staff will emphasize and remind children of ways to be kind, empathetic, and care for one another in and out of school,” Brenner wrote.

Brenner spent time during the beginning of the Tuesday Board of Education meeting to talk about security in the school district in light of the events in Florida. Brenner explained that while transparency is important, when it comes to security protocols, some things simply won’t be made public.

“We can’t be fully transparent. As much as people would like us to be, to do so would be to let people know who would do harm to us what our strategies are,” Brenner said, adding, “There are things we have done, that I know, administration knows, this board knows, that keep students safe; but I won’t share those with you this evening.”

Brenner also said the administration has worked hand in hand with the Darien police department in assessing every school campus in town and implementing security measures. Policies and procedures are also currently being reviewed with the Darien police to see if any further changes need to be made in the district.

In a letter from Chief Ray Osborne, the Darien police also assured residents that student safety was of the utmost importance. “The members of the Darien Police Department would like to assure all of our residents that the safety of our children is a top priority.  In light of recent events, our staff has been in contact with the school administrators and School Superintendent Dan Brenner to review current safety policies in an effort to locate areas that might be updated or improved.  We will continue to maintain an excellent working relationship with the schools and we pledge to keep an immediate and open dialog in the event we receive information that involves any type of threatening behavior or circumstances,” the letter read.

There was also reference made to the meeting with students which dealt with not only the walkout, but security protocols. “High school administration and I have met with group of students. We looked for input from them in terms of safety as they perceive it. Those are valuable productive conversations that are ongoing,” Brenner said, adding that faculty meetings will also take place for further input from the staff.

This came in the wake of an email to parents on February 28 addressing rumors of a threat by a student against classmates.

“I am emailing you this afternoon to prevent any false rumors from causing undue alarm. After school hours yesterday, a student shared with a DHS school counselor a rumor they overheard about another student threatening to harm classmates. As you know, we take all threats against our students, staff, and community very seriously and given the most recent tragedy in Florida, there is a heightened level of concern and vigilance. We immediately contacted the Darien Police Department who thoroughly investigated the incident and determined that it was not a credible threat,” the email from Brenner read.

There is also talk of a walkout on April 20, which Lester says the administration said they were open to. That is the walkout being organized by Murdock, and is very visible on the national scale. Both walkouts have the intent to honor those who lost their lives in Parkland, and the administration has said it will always support a students right to have their voice be heard.

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