Thursday March 22, 2018
A Nor’easter caused local schools to be closed Wednesday, March 14, a day when thousands of students and teachers across the country walked out of their classrooms to raise awareness about school safety and the impact of gun violence. The national walkout, held exactly one month from the day a gunman opened fire at a high school in Parkland, Florida, paid tribute to the 17 lives lost. Students at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School did not let the snow day hinder their plans to participate in the nationwide movement. The following day, March 15, the students held their own walkout, as did students at South Burlington High School (SBHS). The walkouts were to honor and remember those lost in Parkland, support school safety and, for some, to demand stricter gun laws and expanded background checks. For everyone participating, the walkouts were a call for an end to school shootings.
The middle school and high school walkouts were both student led. Student organizers read prepared statements and spoke passionately about their fears, concerns, and commitment to change. Students spoke on topics including gun safety and the rights of gun owners. The walkout included 17 seconds of silence in honor of the 17 lives lost in Parkland.
Eighth grader Matthew Vigneau was one of the middle school student organizers. Passionate about the meaning behind the demonstration, Vigneau expressed, “It is important to me to be part of the walkout because I believe that our leaders need to hear from the next generation of voters … our leaders need to see that we are a force to be reckoned with.” Vigneau says, “I hope that the message is sent to our state and national legislators that we, the youth of America, don’t want to keep hearing about our peers being slaughtered in their classrooms. We want to send the message that we will do what it takes to cause change so that we do not need to be afraid to go to school.”
After reading prepared comments, the FHTMS student organizers invited their peers to make brief statements. One student questioned the Second Amendment, another shared his perspective as a gun owner and stressed the importance of gun safety.
For his part, Vigneau clarified, “I would like to just state that the purpose of this movement is not to overturn the Second Amendment. The purpose of this movement is to prevent gun violence in our schools and establish common sense gun legislation that prevents assault weapons from falling into the hands of mentally unstable people.”
After the walkout, FHTMS principal Karsten Schlenter remarked, “I am very impressed how articulate our middle school students were in voicing their opinion by referring to factual information. These students have spent much time and energy and were extremely organized in honoring those who died in the recent school shooting and to share their thoughts and opinions in a very thoughtful and respectful fashion. I am very proud of the incredible maturity our students displayed throughout this entire event.”
The school district noted that they saw the walkout as an opportunity for learning. A document provided by the district to answer questions, states, “Citizenship is part of the SBSD’s Ends Policy; as such, the SBSD encourages student voice and student engagement and action. Whether students choose to participate or not participate in the walkout, the SBSD intends to encourage ongoing dialogue on topics and issues that are important to our students. It is also important to note that the walkouts in both FHTMS and SBHS are student-led. Students have been thoughtful and intentional in their planning and in their meeting with school
administrators and staff to update them on their vision.”
Patrick Burke, SBHS principal, said his intention was to work with staff, students, and student leaders to support all SBHS students. “When students exercising their voice includes action, we will work together as we strive to assure the actions taken are respectful of other perspectives, including those who choose not to participate.” Burke said, “I am proud of the students for exercising their voice.”
SBHS Student Council issued a statement prior to the event which declared, “This walkout is not a political protest but an opportunity to show our support towards the lives lost in Parkland.”
According to Vigneau, there are plans for some to attend the March for Our Lives event in Montpelier, Saturday, March 24. That march, to end gun violence in schools and communities, is a planned demonstration scheduled to take place in Washington, D. C. and throughout the country. Vigneau added, “There have been calls from students across the country for walkouts on the 14th of every month until something gets done, and an all-day walkout on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine Massacre, but we have not yet discussed either of these possibilities and cannot give more definite information at this time.”
In Montpelier, the House and Senate Education Committees scheduled a public hearing Wednesday, March 21, to hear from Vermont students about their participation in the National School Walkout and school safety concerns.
Regarding the recent school walkouts in Vermont, Governor Phil Scott told reporters at the Statehouse, “I believe that their message has been incredibly important throughout the nation in this regard… I think it’s important that they exercise their right and their thoughts because they’re the future. We need to listen to them.”
SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper