Glen Cove Students organize march for school safety

‘We are the change’


“We are here because we are too young to vote,” William Casale, 17, told the Glen Cove City Council. Flanked by several of his classmates, the Glen Cove High School student continued, “But our voices must be heard.”

Casale asked the council at Tuesday’s meeting to approve a resolution authorizing the “closing of certain streets” — the streets were not specified — to allow the community, led by the students, to organize a March for Our Lives on March 24, in solidarity with the survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14 that left 14 students and three faculty members dead and 15 others injured.

Update: According to a parent of one of the student organizers, "The march will start at the Robert Finley Middle School, [proceed] down Forest Avenue/Brewster Street and end at Pratt Park, next to the Fire Department, where there will be a rally."

The students’ request was granted unanimously, and Casale’s comments were praised by the council. As an aside to her affirmative vote, Councilwoman Pamela Panzenbeck noted, “Mr. Casale, you’re quite a speaker.” Councilwoman Marcia Silverman added, “If this is what our future holds, it looks very bright.”

The students weren’t the only attendees thinking about the Parkland tragedy. Zefy Christopoulos asked for a moment of silence to reflect on the shooting, and noted that her nephew was a 2001 graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where it took place. She implored the parents in attendance to take action.

“We should go to the school board meeting [Feb. 28] and demand the funding for a complete overhaul of the security at the high school,” Christopoulos said, adding, “I think it would behoove all of us, especially our elected officials, to make an appearance.”

The students, of whom there were about 15, said afterward that their goal was not new policy. They expertly waved off persistent questions about specific legislation and solutions. “With this parade,” Casale said, “we’re marching for a change, rather than protesting something — pushing these legislators to make change happen.”

Pressed to specify the changes they were looking for, Morgan Vignali, a senior, said simply, “We just want to feel safe where we have to go to get an education.” Currently, she said, she did not, and that’s what she wanted changed.

The students said that it shouldn't fall to them, but to policy makers, to decide how to achieve that change. “We’re looking for the direness of the situation to be recognized,” said Elijah James, adding, “There have been school shootings before this one,” but afterward, changes didn’t come.

Asked why she thought the Florida shooting was different, Vignali said that it hit closer to home than others. “It was high school students,” she said. “All the text messages and the footage and evidence” made it seem more real, like it could happen to them.

The day after the shooting, she said, several of her classmates came to school in tears, afraid for their own safety.

Casale added, “I’ve heard from a lot of students that they’ve been deeply affected by this.”

The March for Our Lives is only Phase One of the students’ efforts. They are also working to bring programs to their schools, like Challenge Day, which encourages students to open up to one another, or Rachel’s Challenge, an anti-bullying campaign based on the writings of Rachel Scot, the first victim of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

The approach of these programs — that change is not external, but an internal learning process — was echoed by student Alex Suozzi, who said, “We’re not just marching for change, we are the change.”