By SHERIDAN CYR
On a day where students in thousands of schools across the United States participated in the National School Walk Out Day, the pupils of Southington High School were among those who organized participation in the movement.
Despite numerous postings on social media by the students about SHS’s participation, the press was barred from approaching students and speaking to them.
Staff members of the Southington Observer signed in at SHS at 9:10 a.m. to cover the 10 a.m. event.
The Southington Police Department then placed the school on lockdown at 9:30 a.m. to keep the public away from school premises. At that time, The Observer staff on location was asked to vacate the building on Wednesday, March 14. The reporters were told the departure was needed to allow students to participate in walk-out from 10 a.m. to 10:17 a.m.
The national walk out was intended by students as a means to express concerns about violence in schools.
After the Observer staffers signed in, however, they were asked by the visitor’s desk attendant to leave the building– per the principal’s command. Subsequently, the principal and an assistant principal, along with the school resource officer, entered the main office and again requested members of the press to remove themselves from the building.
Southington Observer editor John Goralski made a phone call to the editions editor, Mike Chaiken, at the office for instruction. After some discussion, SHS principal Brian Stranieri took Goralski’s phone and spoke to Chaiken, telling him to ask his staff to exit the building, then hung up.
Goralski eventually cooperated and walked with the principal and the school resource officer to the school entrance. The officer asked the principal to return Goralski’s phone, which he did. Goralski was then told by another police officer that a press area was designated in the back of the building where the students would be vacating the building from.
As Observer staff had already been signed into the building’s property, they stayed within the property boundaries as they walked toward the designated press area. At that time, they spoke to several other officers including Deputy Chief William Palmieri. Palmieri stated the press had to stay in the designated area, but could be escorted toward the students, up to a certain distance, once they began the walk-out. Press could take photos but not speak to students.
The walk-out was organized to honor the 17 students and teachers who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Doughlas High School in Parkland, Florida last month. Students at SHS peacefully filed out of the building, guarded by school administration and police officers.
SHS senior Julia Brilla organized the event, hoping to spread the message to local and federal governments and the community of Southington.
“We are only a half an hour away from Newtown, and our community has felt the pain from the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook that occurred only six years ago,” Brilla said. “The fact that nothing has been done on a national scale to prevent this sort of atrocity from occurring again is outrageous, and it isn’t fair that kids in one state are not as safe in their schools as kids in another state.”
Brilla said it is important that students in Southington stand in solidarity with those who have lost their lives, as well as those who fight for the laws Connecticut has.
Superintendent of Schools Timothy Connellan distributed a letter to Southington Public Schools families and staff prior to the walk-out stating support in the form of not disciplining students who chose to participate.
Hundreds of students participated in the walk-out.