Hundreds of students slowly spilled out of South Side High School at 10 a.m. and headed to the football field to take part in Wednesday’s planned National School Walkout to remember the 17 victims of the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School a month ago.
Seventeen students assembled in a circle in the middle of the field, each holding the photo of a victim. They surrounded a few others that read each name — one per minute. Silence filled the cold and windy air among the hundreds of other students standing shoulder-to-shoulder along the high school track and looking on.
“I started to cry,” said Rockville Centre Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson, who watched the student demonstration from the field’s press box. “It was very painful to see. Especially when I heard the names and the age.”
Seven of the victims killed in Parkland last month were 14. Senior Lily Coll, South Side’s student government president, held the photo of 14-year-old Cara Loughran during the walkout, and said afterward that a feeling swept over her when Cara’s name was read.
“I have a younger brother and he will be turning 14 in a couple months,” Coll said. “Just to think that that could have been my brother. That could have been my classmate. It’s very eye-opening and it does hit you definitely.”
The group Women’s March Youth Empower acted as a national organizer of the walkout, which took place not only in the United States, but also at schools in Europe and Australia.
The event was called simply #Enough.
According to a post on its Twitter feed, Women's March Youth Empower is seeking:
• To enact a resolution declaring gun violence a national health crisis.
• To ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
• To expand background checks on all weapons.
• To pass a federal gun violence restraining order.
• To pass an act "to demilitarize" law enforcement.
School districts are prohibited by law from advocating for political positions, so many district officials throughout the county said they could not condone the walkout. At the same time, many are saying they support their students.
Seniors at South Side High School planned the demonstration with district administrators, who “cooperated with the students in their efforts to make their voices heard,” Johnson told the Herald.
“This was really student-run in the strictest sense of the word,” Principal John Murphy said. “We didn’t have to raise our fingers. The kids completely ran it on their own.”
Despite the national debate surrounding gun restrictions following the shooting, senior Kieran Travers, who helped assemble the event, said he and other organizers tried not to politicize the walkout.
“It was incredibly powerful,” he said. “You see people that you know identify as conservatives. You see people who you know that identify as liberals … but it’s incredible how regardless of what people’s political beliefs are, they went outside and stood in the cold for 17 minutes.
“I respect people who stayed inside,” he continued. “I think the message that we wanted to send was that we were standing in solidarity with the people in Parkland.”
Murphy estimated that about 50 percent of the high school’s students participated, as the other half stayed in their third-period class. “It’s the start of the discourse,” he said. “I’m as proud of the students that chose to stay in the classroom as I am of the students that went outside. Let the conversation begin.”
Check out liherald.com/rockvillecentre, as well as next week’s print edition of the Rockville Centre Herald for more walkout coverage.