In showing of national unity, students from around the borough took part in the National School Walkout to protest gun violence in schools.
P.S. 71, the Academy of Mount St. Ursula and Fordham Preparatory School in Fordham, and others elsewhere in the borough participated in National School Walkout Day on Wednesday, March 14.
Over 3,000 schools across the United States took part in the protest scheduled exactly one month after the Parkland, FL school massacre at 10 a.m.
The walkouts lasted 17 minutes, one minute for each victim of the shooting.
Mayor de Blasio and the New York State Assembly endorsed the walk out.
A statement from the NYS Assembly stated they stood in solidarity with the students as they solemnly remember and honor memories of the students and teachers killed in the Florida high school shooting, adding that silence holds power that words often fail to convey and that the students deserve change.
Contrary to de Blasio’s endorsement, the NYC Department of Education had barred government officials, media, and parents from school property at P.S. 71 during the protest, and students were blocked from recording or photographing the action.
One student had a phone confiscated during the walkout.
Councilman Mark Gjonaj watched alongside parents, expressing support for the youngsters, from the street side of the schoolyard fence.
“We’re all encouraged by the youth for standing up to fight an issue that has polarized the nation,” said Gjonaj. “I had hoped to be part of the solidarity and had hoped for this movement to encourage community involvement.”
Prior to the DOE’s decision on Tuesday, March 13, Gjonaj and other elected officials were invited to attend and speak during the walkout.
Carla Carroll is the mother of seventh grade P.S. 71 student Scarlett Carroll. She believes that the protest also touches on an issue more close to home for the school’s community.
“The school has twice been on lockdown due to an active shooter in the area, one of them being last week, and parents were not notified either time,” said Carroll. “Students have called parents crying hysterically because they were hiding in closets.”
She added: “These students are also protesting shortcomings within the school’s safety protocol.”
Scarlett had been a key engineer in coordinating the walkout and read an essay she had written during the protest.
“We, as students, need to be part of the decision on what to do to make our school’s safety stronger,” stated Scarlett’s essay. “We demand to meet with our principal, our teachers, parents, our local police department, and our fellow students to decide on a comprehensive policy on how to safeguard lives in the event of a code red emergency.
“We shouldn’t be afraid of going to our school, the place where we should feel most safe…Just look at us, we’ve been locked down twice due to active shooter situations outside our school,” she added.
Carla agrees with her daughter’s idea of having students more involved with the school’s safety protocol.
“These kids know every nook and cranny of the building, when it comes to defining safety zones, who’s better to ask than these kids?” said Carroll.
Steve and Sue Nadel who have lived across from the school for over 25 years, joined a few parents and Gjonaj in support of the students’ activism.
“When we were kids the worst thing that could happen at school was being sent to the principal’s office, these kids shouldn’t fear being shot,” said Sue Nadel.
“I hope that what is going on today will prompt better safety regulations within schools,” said Steve Nadel.
In a jointly held walkout approved by both school administrations, Fordham Preparatory School and Academy of Mount St. Ursula students met at a midway point between their schools near Southern Boulevard and Bedford Park Boulevard and then walked back to Fordham Prep’s Joe Fox Memorial Track for a brief prayer service.
Hundreds of students took part in the walkout, and there were many chants opposing gun violence and signs with anti-shooting messages like ‘Armed with Peace Tactics’ and ‘Ban the sale of AR-15s.’
At the service, the crowd responded “present” when the names of the Parkland fallen were read, to show they are still with us and alive in the student movement.
“To come out as a school with the administration supporting us says a lot as an institution,” said Arthur Mabaka, Fordham Prep senior, adding “A lot of it was run by the students because we wanted to show our empathy for what happened in Parkland and to connect as much as we can with those going on the walkout today through the nation.”
At both high schools, participation was voluntary, and Mount St. Ursula students Fredricka Wade, Quenlynn Jowers, Blerentina Krasniqi, Genesis Feliciano and Arion Gilmore jointly suggested that the federal government take action rather than offer condolences, and called for more counseling, mental health services and gun ownership restrictions.
Wade said she doesn’t believe anyone deserves to die, especially at the young ages of many of the Parkland massacre victims.
Teenagers shouldn’t be worried about going to school, and there should be no reason that a teenager should own or buy a gun, said Krasniqi.
Feliciano said that the Parkland incident might have been avoided if the system hadn’t failed.
Gilmore said she thought the rally’s visibility would draw attention to the larger issue of stopping gun violence in schools.
“We decided to participate (in the National School Walkout) because we are very concerned about the violence going on in schools,” said Jean Marie Humphries, AMSU principal. “We believe very strongly that there needs to be better mental health services and detection to see what can be done to stop this violence.”