Nearly 300 Londonderry Lancers joined with students across America to participate in a 17-minute walk out of class on March 14. The students assembled outside of the high school from 10:00 a.m. to 10:17 a.m. out of respect and solidarity for the 17 members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community who lost their lives during a shooting on the campus.
The Parkland, Florida school drew national attention, not only for the murders by 19-year old Nikolas Cruz, but for the level of student activism that it inspired afterwards. Through the efforts of the MSDHS students, a national walk out was planned to take place one month after the shootings.
Normally, protests or demonstrations that encourage students to leave the classroom in the middle of the school day are discouraged by school administrations. Several across the country, most notably in Needville, Texas and Prince William County in Virginia, according to the Washington Post, threatened to take disciplinary action against students who participated in any sort of protest, claiming it was disrupted other other students.
In Londonderry, Lancers who wanted to join the walk out were given permission to do so by the administration, provided it was done peacefully and respectfully.
“There is a balance that must be struck between the Constitutional rights of our students and the need to maintain safety and order during the school day,” said LHS Principal Jason Parent and Superintendent Scott Laliberte in a joint statement sent out to parents.
The two explained in their statement that the high school and district support the students’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, “given that speech does not cause a substantial disruption to the learning environment.”
According to the statement, several high school students approached the administration with a plan to encourage their peers to participate in the national walk out “to honor the seventeen victims of the school shooting, and to bring an awareness to the importance of safety in schools.”
Parent said “Chloe Wilson, Eva Gertz, the four Class Presidents led by Jeff Cieslikowski, and Student Council President Carolyn Roy” were the students behind the LHS event. During the 17-minute assembly, the students leaders briefly spoke about the point of the walk out and conducted a moment of silence.
In their joint statement, Parent and Laliberte stressed that the walk out “is a student-led movement and the school is not endorsing this event. What we are doing is being supportive of all students who choose to take a responsible approach with the event organizers to avoid substantial disruption to the school day.”
Members of the administration like Parent, Laliberte, and Assistant Principal Katie Sullivan were on hand to monitor the students along with school resource officers and other members of the Londonderry Police Department.
Laliberte said he felt the resource officers play a strong role in students feeling safe on campus.
“Our officers are very well trained, and cooperation between the schools and the LPD has been outstanding for many years now. They are an integral part of our efforts to maintain a safe learning environment.”
Detective Christopher Olson said the department had made plans in advance in case of any issues during the walk out, but did not feel that the event would require additional support other than having the officers and administration present.
Laliberte said he felt the walk out “went very well” and that the students were able to participate and carry out the demonstration “without any disruption to other students or the school environment.”
Overall there were about 1,000 students who chose to stay in class, Parent said.
Students were encouraged to speak with their parents and teachers about whether or not they were going to join the assembly and to make sure all educators knew if the student was planning on leaving class. The school said it was not going to give consequences to those who spontaneously participated, but “students should be aware that, as a natural consequence of participation, they will be responsible for making up any work they miss during this time,” said Parent and Laliberte.
Because not even the constitution can protect students from taking their math test.