It was supposed to be a day of peaceful protest. However, many Hicksville School District students were left feeling frustrated and threatened by administration during the National School Walkout.
The nationwide event on March 14 saw thousands of teenagers across the country leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. to stand outside their schools in a public display of solidarity with the victims of the Parkland, FL, shooting, as well as a call for gun reform and safer schools. According to 12th grader Jackie Vila, when the National Honor Society president reached out to the high school principal with a petition containing more than 100 signatures of students who wished to walk out, there was “not much of a response.”
A letter sent out to parents and posted on the district website stated that the central office, building administration and staff met with dozens of student representatives to discuss how to “respect, reflect and appropriately honor the victims of this tragedy.” The letter went on to say that the school “does not encourage or condone a walkout.”
“To do so would not only interrupt the educational program but also miss an opportunity to engage students in lessons about what it means to unify as a school family and effectively communicate our opinions and ideas,” noted the letter.
As opposed to a walkout, district officials declared March 14 as a “Day of Unity,” and students were encouraged to wear the school colors of black and/or orange. Principal Raymond Williams delivered a message of unity at 10 a.m. and students were given post-it notes to write “personal messages to be included in a tribute to victims and survivors of gun violence.” Students were also encouraged to write letters to legislators and engage in discussions or silent reflection during a 17-minute tribute, which ended with a moment of silence.
However, the district’s Day of Unity efforts fell short with many students.
“Throughout the morning on Wednesday, teachers were telling us we’d be doing something, but didn’t say anything specific. After third period, kids were trying to walkout, but all doors were locked and security was blocking the main exits,” Vila said. “When 10 a.m. hit our principal instructed the teachers to hand out post-its and display six questions about gun-control on the smart boards, along with our county legislators’ email addresses. Everyone in my class looked around the room shocked like ‘this is actually what we’re doing?’”
Student Rafeed Hossain took to Twitter to post a picture of the four-post-it notes he wrote on during the 17 minutes.
#NationalWalkoutDay instead of walking out (due to threats of suspension and other disciplinary action from administrations) we were allowed to write POST ITS about OUR FEELINGS. bravo hicksville high school. thanks for shooting us down. but here’s mine. pic.twitter.com/BUie8rs4Ok
— raf (@graficny) March 14, 2018
“A post-it note won’t change laws. A post-it note does not vindicate the 17 lives that were brutally murdered on that day. A post-it note is not standing up for the lives of us students who fear for our lives every day…Protest brought about change. Showing support in large numbers brought about change. It’s time to come out of our shells and act. We can’t live our lives in fear anymore—it is no way to live…It’s time to act. Act now,” said Hossain in the note.
Senior Nick Drivas shared his thoughts on the district’s policy in a video on his YouTube channel. He said that letter-writing and post-its were insufficient alternatives.
“We had to [mail] it from home and send it through our mail or email,” said Drivas in an interview with the Hicksville News. “I was seeing on people’s Snapchats from other schools that they were having their student walkout. I was so confused because I wrote a letter while other people are able to walk out and have their freedom of speech.”
Vila said that while she understood a walkout could impose a safety hazard, she wished the district would have come up with a better alternative.
“Administrators could have organized chaperoned teachers to walk out with the students who wanted to participate,” said Vila. “Neighboring schools had memorials set up and had all faculty and staff involved. This could have been handled much better. There [were] many other alternatives.”
Over at the middle school, students said that teachers and monitors blocked doors and stairways in an effort to keep students from walking out. According to ABC7, while students were initially threatened with suspension or detention, the district instead opted to hold a lunch for the 47 students who walked out and an open dialogue on social activism.
“The students have a right to express their belief in what they think is right,” said Hicksville High School alum Michael Neamonitakis. “If the school did not want a chaotic scenario happening, they should have organized something for the students. Post-Its is not a plan.”
But not everyone disagreed with the school district’s decision to do a Day of Unity.
“The school was right to not allow it from a legal standpoint,” said John Sweeney Jr., a former student. “It is the job of the school to try and keep the students safe and from what I have been told that is all the school did. If the kids were allowed to leave and got hurt then you would be wanting to scalp someone for it so I am glad that the schools put their foot down.”
What do you think of the district’s response to the walkout? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*This article was updated at 3:30 p.m. on March 16.