By SHERIDAN CYR
Southington High School and the Southington Police Department placed the school on lockdown at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 14 to allow students to participate in a national school walk-out from 10 to 10:17 a.m. The walk-out included students that chose to do so to express concerns about violence in schools.
The walk-out was organized to honor the 17 students and teachers who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. last month. Students at SHS peacefully filed out of the building, guarded by school administration and police officers.
SHS senior Julia Brilla organized the local 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 before the event. “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.
“We hope to show the power of the student voice and to call our representatives to action,” she said. “The walkout has students of all different backgrounds and political beliefs participating, and we are focusing on our main goal of ending gun violence without getting caught up on issues that may divide us.”
Superintendent 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.
“I believe that we can and should work in cooperation with our students to allow them the opportunity to exercise their voice if they choose to participate and to do so in a positive and safe manner,” he said in the letter. “In addition, we will collaborate with all of our families, students and staff to ensure that all students are accommodated, including those students who may not want to participate in the chosen activity for a variety of reasons.”
Hundreds of students participated in the walk-out. At the scene, Deputy Police Chief William Palmieri noted the students who exited the building were acting in a respectful manner.
Southington resident Tom DeCorte stood by the press area to witness the scene.
“I support students that may decide to speak their minds,” DeCorte said. “As a parent, we want to see how the school district at large is handling the kids who want to speak their mind and give them a forum to do so. They should be heard.”
One unnamed student expressed concern that the school administration had become too involved in the walk-out and “took over.” Main Office staff said the administration had a plan for execution of the walk out and that the details were being reserved. The student was unsure if she would participate due to the administration’s level of involvement, saying it didn’t feel like a true protest.
Brilla said the parameters set in place by administration included a specific route of travel through the school, a strict ban on signage, and a ban on chanting and speeches. Brilla wasn’t in favor, but she said she “completely understood why the administration did it,” and said “they had an obligation to make sure both the school and students were secure.”
Aliya Sarris, a SHS student, wrote a letter to the editor stating she was not against the walk-out itself, but was unhappy with how it unfolded.
“I thought the walkout would be a peaceful, respectful way to honor victims of gun violence – I was wrong,” Sarris wrote. “Not a minute after we got out of the building, students held up ‘Make America Great Again’ flags, NRA memorabilia, and signs that read, ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’”
Sarris said the utter disrespect and immaturity of students was “disturbing” and “heartbreaking.”
One SHS student posted thoughts in disfavor of the walk-out on a popular Southington community page on Facebook prior to the event.
“I would like to make a statement to all of Southington and our state, too. We do not have a gun problem at hand with our schools. We have a lack of knowledge and a lack of psychiatric help for these students who get involved with such gruesome events,” he wrote. “Let’s make sure these events don’t happen in our future by helping our students based on their medical needs.”
After the walk-out, Connellan said he was pleased with how it played out.
“The students, staff and administration were wonderful today. The Southington Police Department was outstanding,” he said. “I hope the students’ message was received.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.
Photos by JOHN GORALSKI