School board worries NCHS walkout to protest gun violence could ‘set a precedent’
Updated 7:16 pm, Tuesday, March 20, 2018
NEW CANAAN — It was a cold and windy morning March 14 but that didn’t stop around 900 New Canaan High School students from walking out of class to show solidarity with the victims of school shootings.
“Stop acting like guns aren’t the problem,” a female voice was heard, amplified by a microphone. The crowd applauded, their cheers vocalized into one.
The walkout was part of a nationwide movement against gun violence March 14, exactly one month after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that claimed 17 lives. In honor of those killed, the protest was scheduled to last 17 minutes.
Students began to trickle out of the high school a few minutes before 10 a.m., gathering around the flagpole located outside the main entrance. By 10:05 a.m., several hundred students were outside, with more coming out in steady numbers, and the energy in the air was palpable.
John Moses, a retired teacher who worked at Saxe and West elementary schools for over 20 years, brought his own poster that read “We stand with students for safety” to the walkout. Moses, his wife Meredith, and four other adults were kept at bay by police officers.
“I taught the brothers and sisters of these students,” Moses said, referring to the New Canaan High School students who were congregated by the school’s flagpole. “I’m showing my support for this student movement.”
A female speaker read the names of the various mass shootings ranging from Columbine High School to the recent Parkland, Fla. shooting Feb. 14.
In total, between 800 and 1,000 high school students participated in the event, according to Michael Horyczun, the school district’s director of communications. Across the street from the high school, about 80 seventh-graders and 100 eighth-graders at Saxe Middle School also took part in the walkout.
Parts of the New Canaan High School campus were decorated with orange pinwheels, representing the victims of school shootings — something the press was unable to see up close as they were barred from the campus. A school security officer and New Canaan police officers monitored the entrances, redirecting cars and passersby from entering the school grounds.
Brian and Catherine Hollstein were among the adults who showed up to witness and support the walkout, gathering on the sidewalk of Farm Road near the entrance to New Canaan High School.
“I’m sick and tired of what’s going on,” Brian Hollstein said. “I’m excited because this is the future and this generation is fed up with the violence that’s going on at schools.”
Unlike the other adults, Alan Haas was able to observe the event from close to the main entrance.
“I’ve always held an attachment to the school and I wanted to come and observe the walkout,” said Hass, the principal of New Canaan High School in the the early 1970s. “I’m happy to be part of it and I thought the walkout was very well done on part of the students.”
At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Bryan Luizzi confirmed he had been at the high school the morning of the walkout.
“The campus was closed for half an hour with help from the New Canaan Police Department,” Luizzi said. “It was a very powerful event. It was well-run and well-managed.”
Some Board of Education members worried this event could set a precedent.
“This walkout was backed by a political organization and this might set a precedent — is this something going forward?” asked board member Maria Naughton, referring to the Women’s March Network that encouraged the nationwide 10 a.m. walkout.
Luizzi responded that he thought the students had made their message clear that it was on their “own volition” and “defined by themselves.”
“We don’t anticipate walkouts to become a regular event,” the superintendent said. “We also will stand up for safe schools for every child. As we talk to our students — they want to make a statement, they want to make change, but disrupting school isn’t a mechanism to do that. It’s about speaking to legislators or going to Hartford. There’s many ways to do that.”