Bellmore-Merrick students join nationwide walkout movement to protest gun violence

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Students in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District walked out of school, along with other students nationwide, on Wednesday, to protest gun violence and call for stricter gun laws.

The Herald received reports of walkouts taking place at high schools from Valley Stream to Long Beach, Bellmore-Merrick, Glen Head and Oyster Bay, as well as at universities like Hofstra.

At Kennedy High School in Bellmore, dozens of students streamed onto the football field. "This tragedy serves as a wakeup call," said senior Jessica Rosen, speaking of the shooting in Parkland, Fla. "It's an impetus to start working towards a change. It's the final straw that told us that we can't sit idly by anymore."

It began at 10 a.m. Students walked out of their schools for precisely 17 minutes — one minute for each of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims.

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 district officials said they could not condone the walkout. At the same time, many are saying they support their students.

Bellmore-Merrick Superintendent John DeTommaso, on Monday, said that his administration, along with the three high schools’ principals, will work with all students — “those that walk out, and those that don’t.” The district, though, has no official position on the reasons behind the walkout.

“This is not a school-sponsored activity, but the district certainly supports our kids,” DeTommaso said. “We support kids in every way that we can, and we’re going to do that in this case. We’re going to be sure that it’s as controlled an event as possible, with as little disruption to the day as we can.”

Acknowledging that the walkout was “a national movement,” DeTommaso said that he felt it was important for students to have an independent voice, and that students who choose not to walk out also not be treated any differently than those who do.

Asked if students would be disciplined for walking out, DeTommaso said, “We don’t anticipate that there will be, especially in that the principals have worked very hard with the kids.”

Kennedy senior Justin Dynia said, "Every so often there comes a time when it's up to the students to rise to the occasion and be the proponents of change. This is that time."

Classmate Azaria Vargas said the walkout "is of paramount importance in showing that, as students, we have voices and can make them heard."

Nassau police said ahead of the walkout that security was stepped up at high schools across the county, but would offer no further details.

On its website, Women’s March Youth Empower states that the walkout came about because of “Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”

“We need action,” the site states. “Students and allies are organizing the national school walkout to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship.”

Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Education Commissioner Maryellen Elia, in a joint statement on Wednesday, called the walkouts a “peaceful, yet powerful display of unity and civic engagement.”

 

 “This is a national movement; it is real, and it is being driven by our students,” Rosa and Elia said. “As educators, we often talk about ‘teachable moments.’ These young people, united in peaceful protest to demand action buy our Congress on gun violence, are turning tragedy into a teachable moment for our federal lawmakers.”

Walkouts were also planned for Calhoun and Mepham high schools in the district. Any students with photos from the walkouts are encouraged to send them to ehawkins@liherald.com, or share them on the Bellmore-Merrick Herald’s Facebook page, at https://www.facebook.com/Bellmore-Merrick-Herald-1781860228702538/

Alexandra Brinton contributed to this story.