South Side students to participate in national walkout


South Side High School students will be among the thousands of teenagers expected to walk out of their schools on March 14 as part of a national movement to honor the victims killed in the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. and to raise awareness about gun violence.

“They have a free speech right that needs to be protected,” Schools Superintendent Dr. William Johnson told parents and community members at Rockville Centre’s Feb. 28 Board of Education meeting. “We understand that, but in addition to that, we have an obligation to make sure that whatever happens, happens safely.”

Johnson met with student government representatives and other seniors on March 2 to discuss logistics of the walkout, which is planned to take place at 10 a.m. Students in all grades, who are encouraged by student organizers to wear school colors, will be allowed to exit the school and walk to the football field, where they will stand silently for 17 minutes in memory of the 17 people killed in Parkland.

Those who do not wish to participate should not feel pressured to do so, school officials said. Teachers will stay with students who choose not to leave their classrooms.

“We don’t want it to be liberals versus conservatives, even though it’s more of a liberal view to walk out,” said senior Katie Ralph, who has helped organize the walkout. “We all want safe schools. We all want the same goal. The ones who are walking out are just expressing it in that way, but everyone wants to go into school and not be afraid.”

Not all students believe it is a worthwhile cause, like junior Thomas Vella, who said that though students are “justifiably upset,” he thinks they should stay in class. “It’ll have very little impact on the overall effect of passing better gun control,” he said. “I think it’s more like people shouting into a void just to get their idea out.”

Junior Anthony DeFalco said he did not have a problem with those who want to participate, but offered an alternative option. “I’d much rather see people actually discussing what they believe and why they believe it and what they think should be done,” he said, “rather than going out and displaying some sort of emotional response to what happened.”

Certain school districts around the country have reportedly threatened to suspend students that participate. But Liz Dion, vice president of Rockville Centre’s Board of Education made clear at the Feb. 28 meeting that she supports the walkout. Johnson told the Herald afterward that he admires the students’ push for action in making schools safer.

“I’m just happy that the school is making it a safe opportunity for the kids,” said Katie Clarke, a South Side High School Spanish teacher and the advisor of the school’s Political Awareness Club. “I think that the administration has their best interest in mind.”