MIDDLETOWN, CT — Instead of holding a walk-out protest as many of their peers did across the country on National School Walkout day on Wednesday, students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School held a forum on school safety and gun legislation.
Students met with school leaders, local officials, and state Rep. Matthew Lesser, D-Middletown, for two walk-in forums.
One hour-long session was held Wednesday morning; a second was slated for Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m really proud of the students’ thoughtful response to the tragic, mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and for their wanting to have these forums,” said Lesser, who supports new legislation that has been proposed in the current General Assembly session banning bump stocks and ghost guns.
The sessions were held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland school shooting in which 17 students and staff were killed by a lone, teenage gunman who is now charged with 17 counts of murder.
Thousands of Connecticut students walked out of school Monday for 17 minutes in memory of those killed.
The Woodrow Wilson Middle School students peppered the panelists with questions about school safety, with topics ranging from not feeling safe in school to their views on arming teachers with guns — which is one of the suggestions President Donald Trump has proposed to combat the problem.
“It is very unfortunate that you have to be scared to come to school,” Middletown Police Chief William McKenna told the students. The chief tried to reassure the students that “school security is our top priority,” telling the students there is a lot they don’t know about with respect to what goes on behind the scenes to ensure school safety.
Lesser added: “One thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is feeling safe in your own school.” The state representative told the students that one thing they need to understand is that Connecticut has much tougher gun laws than Florida.
Many of those laws, Lesser told the students, were enacted after the Sandy Hook shooting massacre in Newtown in December of 2012.
Middletown Mayor Dan Drew told the students, “We do everything we possibly can to keep you safe.” He reiterated what the police chief stated — that there “are lots of things we’ve done that aren’t even visible to you.”
Drew told the students that on February 25, when a man deliberately crashed his car into an emergency room at Middletown Hospital, that an entire shift of police officers were called in to provide security at each and every school in Middletown— even though there was no threat imminent.
One of the students asked the panel about Trump’s suggestion that certain, highly trained teachers, be armed with guns.
“I can’t tell you of a worse idea than arming teachers,” Lesser said, adding that he had “talked to a lot of teachers” about Trump’s suggestion, and none liked the idea.
On the issue of arming teachers, the Connecticut Association of School Administrators released the results of a survey of its members Wednesday. The survey, the association said, had over 160 respondents and found 84 percent were against providing teachers and administrators with firearms. Eighty-five percent said they didn’t believe schools would be safer if teachers and administrators were armed.
“The results of our survey don’t surprise me or our organization at all,” Anthony Ditrio, chair of the association and a retired Norwalk school principal, said.
“Millions of students attend schools throughout the nation for one purpose, to get an education,” Ditrio said. “While we agree students should feel safe in every learning environment, arming school teachers and administrators is not the right course of action.”
While the officials and students were discussing school safety in Middletown, in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, in honor of the National School Walkout, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty walked out of the U.S. Capitol Building to join students from dozens of schools in demanding Congress take action on gun safety reforms.
Prior to the event outside the U.S. Capitol, students from more than 28 schools participated in 17 minutes of silence outside the White House in memory of those killed in Parkland.
Those students then marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol where 7,000 pairs of shoes — a pair for each child victim of gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 — were on display on the Capitol’s eastern lawn.
“I want to thank all the students and faculty members in Connecticut and across the country who made the decision to participate in the National School Walkout today to honor the 17 students and teachers who were killed in Parkland last month and all the others who were so deeply affected by this tragedy,” Murphy said.
Murphy added: “But the truth is, this epidemic doesn’t take a day off. While the mass shootings get the national attention, every day, 80 to 90 people in this country die from a gunshot wound. This catastrophic rate of violence happens because of the government’s inaction, and so today cannot just be a moment of remembrance — it needs to be a moment of action,” Murphy said.
Not all Connecticut high school students are in favor of tougher gun laws or walking out of school over the controversial issue.
“My beliefs on this walk out are that it should not happen,” Ashley Dummitt, a 16-year-old Farmington High School junior said. “Politics have no place in a public school, as there is no civil way to do it.”
She added: “On behalf of my school, I am proud to say that I have had this walk out shut down! We will be holding an assembly instead where I will be the only speaker talking about paying respects to the victims only, not involving politics.”
And on the larger overall issue of guns, Sam Colossale, 17 and a junior at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington said: “Guns are able to save far more lives than they take and most mass shootings are done by handguns not assault weapons.”
He added: “I think we should have more security in our schools. I believe there should be more security guards that are armed to be able to prevent acts like this again.”