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Friday, September 21 Local

Local schools, students, prepare for walkouts to protest gun violence

For Jackson Mittleman, 16, a junior at Newtown High School, the Feb. 14 shootings at a Florida high school by a gunman with an AR 15-style rifle helped flip a switch.

He was 11 years old when 20 first-graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook. Walking out of his high school at 10 a.m. on March 14, 2018, as part of a nationwide stand against gun violence will be like tending to some unfinished business, he said.

“We still haven’t gotten justice for people who lost their lives,” Mittleman said.

At Trumbull High, the aim for senior class president Matthew Kuroghlian is to make lawmakers in Washington realize his generation can’t be ignored.

“I personally see this tragedy as the tipping point in the way we as a country and state handle gun violence in schools,” Kuroghlian said.

And at Shelton High School, junior Megan Bisson’s motive for walking out of class one month after 17 lives were lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is basic.

“I want to come to school and be scared of my chemistry test, not be scared if I am going to go home at the end of the day,” Bisson said.

Across the region and across the country, high school students are planning walkouts in numbers some organizers said they hope will rival recent Women’s Marches.

“I think this will show our generation does care, that it’s not OK (to shoot up a school) no matter what you think of gun control,” Molly Baker, a senior at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, said.

United front

The March 14 walkout is one of several events students are staging to rally against gun violence. March 24 rallies for safer schools and gun control are also planned in Hartford, Washington and elsewhere. Another school walkout is planned on April 20 — the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.

The idea, students say, is to keep the momentum going and not let the issue of gun violence fade once again out of the headlines.

“I think now is the time that we have this window of opportunity to make our voices heard,” said Baker, from Fairfield.

Mittleman is one of a group of students from across the country helping to plan the national demonstrations.

“Definitely a spark has been ignited after Parkland,” he said. “Student see there are others out there who are also furious. We as students can have a huge impact on what happens about gun violence.”

Too close to home

While many people were learning about the Florida shooting from new reports, many high school students around the country witnessed it unfold live on Snapchat and other social media.

“We could see it happen like they did,” Julia Jacob, a Shelton junior, said of students her own age who live-streamed via cell phones the experience of being locked in classrooms and closets for hours.

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Middleman didn’t have to see video. He lived it as a sixth-grader in Newtown when his Reed Intermediate School was put on lockdown for hours during the Sandy Hook shooting.

“I remember adults not telling us anything,” Middleman recalled. “We didn’t know what was happening but we knew something was wrong. They left it for us to go home and let our parents break the news.”

Middleman wants Parkland to be the last time kids have to go through that experience.

“I am really glad kids are starting to fight back,” he said.

Safety not politics

Kuroghlian, from Trumbull, said the aim of the walkout is not to take sides.

“We don’t want to polarize,” he said. “Kids can form their own opinions and act on those opinions. What we want is to get kids to speak out and try to make a difference. Obviously we want solutions but most important is for kids to come up with their own ideas.”

Though inspired by outspoken Stoneman Douglas students like David Hogg and Marjory Stoneman, Kuroghlian and other local students say their motivation is driven by the desire to keep kids safe.

Kuroghlian and Baker both believe most students at their schools will participate. In both cases, the plan is to stay on campus, perhaps congregate on the football field and listen to speakers.

Reaction across the states to the walkout has been mixed. The superintendent of Needville, Texas,schools outside of Houston, said any student who participated in the walkout would be suspended for three days.

Locally, Shelton Schools Superintendent Beth Smith said her school will participate in a before school “walk in” coordinated by the Connecticut Education Association so that teachers can participate. Then at 10 a.m., students who want to will be allowed to participate in the 17-minute walkout, staying on campus.

“I think part of our responsibility as educators is to teach students to stand up for themselves and their beliefs in respectful, responsible and compassionate manners,” Smith said.

Shelton students are talking about dressing that day in maroon and silver — Stoneman Douglas school colors. They also decided to create a banner to be sent to the Parkland school.

Noah Swatt, a Shelton senior, said he read on line that the Florida school doesn’t want gifts or donations, but rather shows of support.

So along with other students, Swatt got a three-by-six foot banner that many of Shelton High’s 1,451 students have signed. Some added hearts and positive messages.

“It is important as a society to come together,” Tiana Boccuzzi, a Shelton senior, said.

In Fairfield, Schools Superintendent Toni Jones is on board with the walkout.

“We are supporting our young people who want to participate and are working with them to have a voice,” Jones said. “I'm so impressed by our students right now. How can we teach civics and citizen engagement, then when a real issue comes up tell our students to be silent?”

Baker said she is in talks with the administration at her school about the possibility of turning the whole school day on March 14 into a “Day of Action.”

“Let’s hope it gets the attention of Congress and show them that hundreds of thousands of kids in the country are fed up with their inaction,” Baker said.

Linda Conner Lambeck|Education Reporter

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