Not the way to handle it

On Wednesday, students across the nation either walked out of school or met in a designated area in peer support and memory of 17 students and adults killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14, as well as to make their voices heard against gun violence and school shootings.

We did our best to cover the walkout locally right after the massacre when it was announced by calling local officials and asking questions. We reported that local school officials had been “listening,” but had not heard any students planning on participating.

On the day of the event, we had a reporter outside of Gloversville High School in case any students did participate. No one left the building and it looked as though it was business as usual.

But, it wasn’t we would later learn.

The principal decided to call in uniformed police officers and the mayor to “protect” the students who may have wanted to participate and give them safety tips, as well as station staff, police and teachers at exits to “redirect” students.

BOCES Superientendent Patrick Michel, whose juridiction covers all 15 schools within our readership area, had suggested school personnel consider organizing an event inside the schools if students wanted to participate. He also expressed concerns that a deranged individual could take advantage of the well-known event to become the next school shooter and target some of our local kids if they walked outside of a school at 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

Gloversville High School Principal Richard Demalli was asked if any students were planning a walkout and he said he and the staff were “listening” and had not heard of any student plans to participate. He also never said a planned event would be organized.

Then Wednesday came and it seemed like a non-event here in Gloversville. (Johnstown schools were off for the day.)

By Wednesday afternoon, the upset messages started coming in. Some from parents, some from former students. One parent, well-known and respected in the area, said his teen told him “police, teachers and the mayor blocked all the doors,” so the students could not participate.

This was the student’s perspective and how they saw it.

While officials deny students were prevented from leaving the school building, they do admit they stationed police and staff at all the doors to “redirect” the students into the auditorium where Mayor Dayton King awaited to talk to the students about safety.

What child would disobey a school official or uniformed police officer and still walk out that door? Do we not teach our children to respect authority figures?

Demallie also said no student made the choice to go into the auditorium to hear yet another safety talk.

Keeping children safe is a top priority with our schools and municipalities and they are very pro-active when it comes to safety measures. We applaud them for that.

And we are sure they had the students’ safety in mind when they asked the police department and the mayor to be on hand Wednesday. Just walking out of school during class time is not a good idea.

But we think officials dropped the ball on this one by not organizing an event for the students, and by bringing in armed police officers. We feel school officials should have spent more time engaging the students in actual discussions on whether or not they wanted to participate in a walk-in or an event designed to allow them to show their solidarity with peers across the country and to give them a voice.

Fonda-Fultonville Central School District had more than 100 students participate in the walkout and there was no crisis and the students’ need to show solidarity with peers nationwide was validated. Their superintendant, Thomas Ciaccio, actually joined the students and released a letter saying he was “proud” of the students and maturity they displayed during the walkout. The district had counselors available and administrators were on hand to supervise the students. It gave the students a voice and they felt validated. Hundreds of other schools in New York and thousands across the nation also took this approach.

While GHS was trying to do what it felt was the right thing for students, perhaps they really should have been listening more by engaging the students in a conversation of what they wanted to do for the walkout and then find a compromise that would validate the students concerns, while letting their voices be heard and still keeping them safe.

This could have been a great teaching opportunity for the school to show soon-to-be adults that we are listening and we do care. That their voices do matter.

Calling in uniformed and armed police officers, stationing people of authority at exits and “redirecting” students to a safety talk as a way of dealing with the planned nationwide walkout did not take the needs of the students seriously and more than likely gave them the impression that they are only children whose concerns and voices are not important.

By Kerry Minor

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