Middle school students at Mount Desert Elementary School take part in a walkout to protest gun violence last Thursday. ISLANDER PHOTO BY DICK BROOM

Student walkouts protest shootings: ‘This is how it has to be’

MOUNT DESERT — “We shouldn’t have to do this,” Mount Desert Elementary School (MDES) eighth-grader Susannah Chaplin said last Thursday during the student walkout to protest gun violence.

“This isn’t how it should be, but this is how it has to be because there are people in charge who aren’t doing the things they need to be doing.”

Forty-four of the school’s 71 students in grades six through eight left the school at 10 a.m. and walked across Summit Road, where they lined up on the sidewalk in front of the Union Church.

A few of the students made short statements, and several held handmade signs with messages such as “Fear should not be a school subject” and “Thoughts and prayers won’t stop a bullet.”

After about 20 minutes, they returned to the school.

In Bar Harbor, more than 30 students in grades seven and eight at Conners Emerson School walked to the Village Green, where they read the names of the 17 people killed in the Florida school shooting last month and made snow angels in their memory. The sixth-grade students were away on a previously scheduled field trip.

At Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor, eight middle school students left class and went into the library, where some stood and others sat quietly for 17 minutes.

Ten middle school students at Tremont Consolidated School left class and walked from the outdoor garden to the walkway in front of the adjacent Tremont Community Center.

Trenton Elementary School Principal Mike Zboray said none of the middle school students there took part in the walkout.

“Middle school teachers had conversations in their classrooms over the issues of ongoing violence in school after the tragedy in Florida,” he said.

Superintendent Marc Gousse had issued a set of “guidelines and expectations” for the walkout, which he emailed to parents and posted on the school system’s website early last week. He wrote that, for safety reasons, the school system “does not recommend, support or approve of any student leaving school grounds for this initiative.”

“Students who choose to leave school grounds … should be dismissed and supervised by parents/guardians.”

MDES Principal Gloria Delsandro said in an email response to questions from the Islander that the students who organized the walkout there “were informed that the MDES School Committee, Superintendent Gousse and I expected them to stay on campus. They also were aware that if they were to leave, parents would be contacted.”

Delsandro said she heard from some parents Thursday morning and called others. When the students returned to the school, attendance was taken to make sure everyone was accounted for.

The school walkouts locally and nationwide were organized in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

In addition to the MDES students who took part in the walkout, Delsandro said another small group gathered in the school’s meeting space known as “the Forum” “to write notes of kindness and honor the victims in Parkland.”

As for the students who organized the walkout, Delsandro said, “Clearly, they are impassioned and are learning how to be active and engaged citizens.”

The Conners Emerson students who left school and walked to the Village Green were signed out by their parents.

About 80 Mount Desert Island High School students participated in the walkout there last Friday. They gathered outside the gym entrance, where they were joined by about two dozen adult community members. A number of the students and adults held signs protesting gun violence.

A couple of hours later on Friday, some students, faculty and staff at College of the Atlantic took part in a brief walkout “in solidarity with the students of MDI High School” and to call for measures to ensure student safety.

The local public school protests were originally scheduled for last Wednesday, March 14, to coincide with the nationwide walkout, but they were postponed because MDI-area schools were closed that day due to a snowstorm.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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