By Molly Katz ’19
After the National School Walkout was publicized on Facebook and other social media platforms, many Heschel students decided to join the walkout themselves. Knowing that a significant number of schools across the country were threatening disciplinary action for walking out, a few students decided to approach the Heschel administration to collaborate on the planning of the walkout.
These students were members of EAC and HSDA. Because all of these students were relatively left-wing, administrators asked members of Young Conservatives and other right-wing students to participate in the planning committee to ensure that students across the political spectrum had input.
Initially, the members of the committee wanted to simply walk out of the school during class for 17 minutes, and then come back to classes. Some students who were not planning to walkout worried that they would be judged or alienated for not walking out. Others who were undecided were unclear as to what exactly the walkout was for. While the mission statement of the walkout organization listed specific legislative demands, would the Heschel walkout be in support of that exact agenda? Because of these concerns, the administration, in conjunction with students, created additional programming. From an administrative standpoint, Heschel leadership also needed to consider security. All of these questions were addressed by careful and thoughtful planning.
Planners wanted to bookend the walkout with school unity, so they started the walkout with a schoolwide moment of silence and ended the walkout with an indoor assembly, which also included students who chose not to participate. The entire school would come together to honor the victims of the tragedy before those who wanted to walkout did so, and then come together after to show solidarity as a full school in order to combat the alienation and separation many students who did not want to walkout wanted to avoid.
Lydia Schmelzer, a member of the planning committee, said, “I feel like the assembly’s purpose was partly to make sure all opinions were part of the conversation about how to stop mass shootings. Originally, we were gonna have people across the political spectrum talk about what change they want.” However, some members of the planning committee were concerned that this assembly would end up echoing the “thoughts and prayers” they had protested by walking out. They wanted some students from different political standpoints to stand up and say what they would be willing to change, but many students declined to speak.
The planners held the town hall a week prior in order to discuss as a full school how students felt about the walkout and what they would be willing to walk out for. Furthermore, they thought it would encourage students to think about their own opinions and determine for themselves if they would walk out. The organizers thought that walking out should not simply be an impulsive decision, but rather should be a result of thought and discourse. Also, they hoped it would encourage students to continue that discussion in the hallways and after the walkout.
The security aspect of the planning came as a surprise to many of the planners. As students, they had assumed that they could simply walk out of the building and walk back inside, but many of the decisions about the structure of the walkout resulted from decisions made by security. According to Lara Caligor, another member of the planning committee, “one of the more difficult parts of planning the walkout was logistics.” The planners had no input as to where the walkout would take place, or what door they would exit from. Additionally, students were not allowed to march up and down the block as a result of security risks, despite the requests of student planners. Josh Epstein, who was also on the committee, said, “When we protested to make our schools safer, we also had to make our protests safe. I think it really speaks to the dangers existing in our country. It’s a shame but it’s the reality and we must do whatever we can to create a safer environment.”
Finally, the planners made certain decisions in order to encourage as many people as possible to walk out. Rather than formatting the walkout like a protest like the neighboring middle school did, the Heschel student planners chose to opt out of signs or politically charged chants in order to attract a larger part of the community.