Niskayuna students eye March, April walkouts

Niskayuna High School. (Marc Schultz)Niskayuna High School. (Marc Schultz)

NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna High School students organizing a walkout and ceremony to honor students killed last month in Florida won tacit administrative support for a March 14 event, but they may face discipline if they carry out a second walkout and rally planned for April.

Around 100 students — both walkout organizers and those with general safety concerns — attended a monthly forum Thursday with Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. and high school administrators. The agenda this week: discuss the walkout plans and broader concerns about school safety.

Earlier in the week, Tangorra also heard from a group of eighth- and ninth-graderswho expressed concerns about school safety and said they planned to join the national walkout movement.

The students presented their plans to organize an event on March 14 – the date chosen by student activists nationwide for similar walkouts. The Niskayuna event is to be non-political and focused on honoring the 17 students and school staff killed in the Parkland shooting. Students plan to wear orange as a sign of solidarity as they observe 17 minutes of silence and read the names of the 17 victims before returning to class.

While some members of the student congress suggested holding the walkout inside the school would alleviate safety concerns, student organizers insisted on holding it at the flag pole in front of school and welcomed police supervision to ensure safety.

“[We hope] it causes as minimal a disruption as possible,” said Suzie Davis, the senior who registered Niskayuna on a website that lists schools nationwide that plan to participate in March 14 walkouts. “It’s really in solidarity of those lives lost.”

Students are planning a second event for April 20 – another date targeted by national organizers and the Parkland students – that would include a more extended walkout and a rally at Niskayuna Town Hall, which students said they have already reserved. That rally would also be the students’ chance to lay out a political agenda to ban military-style rifles, expand background checks and impose other gun laws.

“That is meant to be a political event. That is about gun control and putting pressure on Congress and (state lawmakers),” said Cecilia Cain, a high school junior who registered Niskayuna on a national website for the April 20 walk-outs. “This is meant to be a protest, and civil disobedience is meant to be disruptive.”

Tangorra said he could not condone students leaving class, but that he would provide support to allow students to carry out the March 14 event as safely as possible.

“I support and will protect and defend your right to protest,” Tangorra told the students, the largest group he said he had seen in nearly three years of the student forums. He added that he wants to work with them to amplify their message.

“More importantly than this protest is how you are going to sharpen your political power going forward,” he said.

Tangorra, however, expressed stronger reservations about the April 20 walkout plans; the students acknowledged administrators wouldn’t support all of their actions.

“We respect your right to protest. We can help coordinate the event on [March] 14; that’s where our cooperation with you separates,” Tangorra told the students.

“I understand that,” Cain told Tangorra as other students expressed a similar understanding.

The student organizers accepted that their actions may result in consequences. Administrators and elected student representatives asked that students planning to leave campus consider bringing a note from parents excusing their absence, or at least sign out of class, citing concerns for student safety.

“No one is trying to avoid consequences,” Cain said.