Montclair High School teens plan protest walkout
DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Daphne Hansell has the majority opinion from the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines case living on her phone.
It’s on her phone specifically “in case the administration gets mad at us about making our protest too political,” said the 15-year-old Montclair High School sophomore, who is one of the teens organizing a student walkout this Wednesday, March 14, at 10 a.m.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1969 that schools could not force students to take off their black armbands protesting the Vietnam War. Students, the court opined, did not shed their First Amendment rights at the door.
The walkout, according to a resolution presented by Montclair High School Civics and Government Institute to Assistant Superintendent Kendra Johnson, is designed for students “to show their support for the Parkland students and for Common Sense Gun Legislation.”
The walkout will be 17 minutes long, to commemorate the 17 killed in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day. Students will speak, including seniors Corinna Davis and Ari Westreich.
Hansell, along with seniors Corinna Davis, Joni Mae De Los Santos, Ari Westreich, Blythe Raine Bharamipour and fellow sophomore Hana Ackelsberg gathered on Tuesday to discuss the walk out.
“It’s student activism, led by students. We don’t need teachers involved,” said Davis, one
of the driving forces in the organization Students Demand Action, a subset of Moms Demand Action, both of which are part of Everytown, a group dedicated to ending gun violence.
“This will not be a silent walk out, but a loud angry one,” Ackelsberg said. There are 2,000 students at the school that could potentially participate in the walk out. Blythe Raine Bharamipour, senior class president, said that the administration told class officers students will not be penalized for attending, though “they don’t feel they can completely support it, because there’s been a lot of controversy about this march having a political meaning behind it.”
The administration has told students they may not speak politically at the walkout, but what that means isn’t clear to the teens.
At the board of education meeting on March 5, parents and BOE members spoke passionately.
Parent Joan Furlong said that the superintendent should have said no to any type of student walkout or rally.
“That should have been the end of it. Now, thanks to the superintendent we are all informed of the upcoming walkout,” said Furlong. She also claimed that the school should not be using email “on behalf of a partisan political activity sponsored by a radical leftist group,” about the Feb. 22 email sent out by Interim Superintendent Barbara Pinsak.
Another parent, Kate Newmark, said she is awestruck and inspired by the students who have begun to rise up and assert themselves.
“They criticize us adults for not stepping up and keeping them safe, and they are right to do so. Now our children want to unite, at a time when they feel voiceless and powerless, and they are faced with cowardice from our school district,” she said.
Feeling safe is not an issue of the left or the right, Davis stressed. “We are not trying to attack any group of people. We are not safe in school. Adults are supposed to protect us.”
Hansell said it is a political movement.”There is room in our demonstration for gun reform. There is room for saying our lawmakers need to do something,” she said.
Board member Joe Kavesh said it’s neither a Democrat nor Republican issue.
The students’ background informs their activism. For De Los Santos, a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines, school is where she can discuss social issues. Raine Bahramipour is also a first-generation immigrant. Her father, who is from Iran, has cried at every single speech President Obama has given, she said.
“In Iran, if you say one little thing about anyone who is in charge, you’re physically putting
your life on the line. So he gets so emotional and passionate about the amazing opportunities that we have here, and he encourages me all the time. ‘Use your freedom of speech, use every single right you can because where I’m from that wasn’t even an option for me,’” she said.
That some adults are calling the Parkland students “actors” is bizarre and sad, Ackelsberg said, “There so many ways people take down teenagers.”
Hansell snapped her agreement.
De Los Santos said. “It’s sad that it had to go this far just to get this momentum. Now that it’s high school students that are affected, we’re starting to use our voice.”
The elementary school students of Sandy Hook could not.
Adults should know, Davis said, “Our generation is not going to be complicit and silent.
“Our generation is going to speak up for ourself. And we are going to change the world.”