Story by A.J. Arias
Students from Warwick Valley High School took part in the National Walkout that occurred throughout the country on Fri., Apr. 20. The event took place on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine mass school shooting. The National Walkout was organized in order to demand gun safety, according to the national organizers.
The walkout began at 10 a.m. when approximately 30 students from both Warwick Valley Middle and High School left their buildings during the regular school day to begin their protest. The students, parent chaperones and members of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Safe Space America walked down West St. through the center of the Village to Stanley-Deming Park as police officers followed to ensure their safety.
Warwick’s walkout was organized by high school seniors Bella Jardine, Anna Costa, Chloe Borthwick, Kaitlyn Fenton, and Olivia O’Connor. According to Jardine, they began organizing the event about two to three months ago. Jardine said that she kept the school posted as the event moved along, but that the school had no part in organizing it.
Many safety concerns had arisen surrounding the walkout by parents. Lt. Thomas Maslanka, of the Warwick Police Department, said that he believes the Town’s leaders as well as the police department would’ve fully supported the event if the organizers had gone through the proper process of receiving permits for the walkout along the Village’s streets as well as had the event occurred on a weekend when school wasn’t in session.
Many parents posted their concerns about the walkout on Facebook. Some parents attended the event to make sure that everything was safe. This was the second walkout organized within the Warwick School District in the past couple of months. Both events occurred during regular school hours but were coinciding with national movements going on across the country on the same day.
Warwick School District Superintendent Dr. David Leach in a public statement said, “While the District agrees that school safety and gun control are important public policy matters, it cannot condone this off-campus activity or the associated unexcused student absences. Students leaving school buildings and school property present some student safety concerns. Also, to condone or endorse this type of off-campus walkout may require the District to endorse other future walkouts, without regard to viewpoint or merit, to avoid viewpoint discrimination claims.”
Leach later in his statement said that the students will be reprimanded with a lunch detention for their unexcused absence.
Several high school as well as three middle school students spoke to the crowd at Stanley-Deming Park. All of the speeches were given with a noticeable passion and heightened emotions.
High School senior Micah Sander said, “Maybe you won’t get to stop wars or end world hunger but why not try,” when referring to things worth fighting for. Sander later said that he “couldn’t be silent for another second.”
Many students spoke of the trauma they experience when going through lockdown drills or recalling their first drill. Annabel Boland, a sophomore, said that she was in fourth grade when the Sandy Hook mass shooting occurred and that it scared her. While recalling her first lockdown drill in the fifth grade, she was told by her teacher that in the worst case scenario she should jump out of a window and run all the way home. She was only 10 at the time.
Mollie Hewitt, 11, said, “I hate going to school knowing that it can be my final resting place.”
Cameron Quinn, a sophomore, held back tears as she addressed the crowd saying, “Even though I’m in high school and looked at as a kid, I’m still making a difference.”
Chloe Borthwick, a senior, performed a selection of songs including “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen and “Imagine” by John Lennon that mirrored the emotions of the participants.
Former Warwick school teacher Beverly Braxton, the only adult that spoke, said she decided to speak because she was inspired by the students. Braxton told the students about her fears of violence growing up, saying the fears were so severe they caused her to stutter.
Braxton’s lasting words of knowledge were, “What you’re most afraid to do is what you have to do.”
The event organizers called for an open dialogue on the topic of gun safety and asked supporters of the walkout to send a one-minute video of themselves to their Facebook page, Teach-In on Gun Control, as to why they walked out or supported the walkout. Ending the event the organizers said, “This is not the last you’ve heard from us.”
Discussion over the event has caused a split amongst the people of Warwick. Many residents have taken to social media to make their voices heard. The conversation in Warwick mirrors the ones happening across the country.
To view the video of the walkout check out the Warwick Valley Dispatch on YouTube. All videos taken by the Dispatch can also be found on the website by clicking on the WVD Videos tab.