Darien students defy administration, walk out against gun violence

Photo of Justin Papp

DARIEN — A little over a month after more than 600 Darien students walked out to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla., shooting, Darien students again joined protesters nationwide Friday and left school at 10 a.m.

But this time, the students did not return to class and they did not have the approval of administrators.

“It’s a more radical approach to it,” said junior Kate Dempsey, as she walked more than a mile with a group of 11 students off campus to the Noroton Heights Metro-North train station, where they boarded a train bound for New York to join other students in Washington Square Park in a protest against gun violence. “On March 14, a lot of students felt like they really couldn’t share their voices. but now with this one they can say whatever they want, be as political as they want and be more radical with the approach.”

According to organizers, roughly 60 students left class around 10 a.m. and gathered for a brief vigil in the high school courtyard. From there, around 30 students left campus altogether — some on foot, some in their cars — and made for the train as police watched.

As the students marched down Noroton Avenue, posters in hand, cars honked in support and police cruisers passed occasionally. A car full of student protestors with a megaphone passed, offering a ride to those on foot. Officers waited at the train station for the teens to see that they made the trip safely.

Junior Sophie Howard was among those walking out. She said she has been attending school in Darien since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School and has never been able to shake the fear she feels that something terrible might happen.

“I had that really intense feeling for months and months and I thought surely something will happen. Surely someone will fix this. I’ve been waiting for years and nothing has happened. And the idea that there are children in Florida who experienced the same thing is untenable to me,” Howard said.

Howard was met at the train station by her mother, Autumn, who said she and her husband were moved by their daughter’s passion. Autumn said she came to show support and ensure the students’ safety.

“They are children, after all,” the elder Howard said.

This time around, organizers said they faced opposition from administrators leading up to the walkout. As opposed to the March 14 walkout — for which the school scheduled 17 minutes in the day and exempted students from rules against cutting class — administrators warned students they would be punished for missing school. Principal Ellen Dunn was met with boos as she removed a banner hung by students that said “Am I Next? WLKT TMrrW 10:00 am” from the walls of the cafeteria on Thursday.

“Everyone found that the administration was kind of being hypocrites because Ms. Dunn had sent out an email saying that we fully support your opinion, but also if you leave school you’re going to be suspended. Of course we understand the liability of it, but it’s a weird double standard that they had set up,” said Kate’s sister, Meaghan Dempsey.

Still, the students walked on undeterred.

“I don’t care if I get a detention or suspension. This is bigger than us,” Kate Dempsey said.

Calls seeking comment from Superintendent of Schools Dan Brenner and Darien High School Principal Ellen Dunn were not returned.

justin.papp@scni.com; @justinjpapp1; 203-842-2586