WESTFIELD, NJ — More than 1,000 students gathered outside of Westfield High School, Roosevelt Intermediate School and Edison Intermediate School on Wednesday for a district-sanctioned school walk out to honor the 17 victims of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School one month ago. Students who had permission from their parents were permitted to leave their classrooms for 17 minutes of remembrance, a minute for each victim in the Parkland shooting, according to a press release from the district.
In a letter to parents, the district asked that only students attend the event. Members of the press were not invited.
Wednesday was National School Walkout day, a day that Women’s March Youth Empower encouraged students, teachers, parents and allies across the country to walk out of schools in support of new gun control-related legislation.
“We changed the name of our event to ‘17 Minutes of Solidarity’ because we want #Westfield to show the world we can stand in solidarity together and won’t need to walkout on each other to be heard,” a post on the page reads.
During the event, student leaders at all three schools spoke briefly, some reading poems, others remembering by name each of the 17 victims, all expressing togetherness, according to the district.
“Currently schools across the nation are joining together as we value school safety. You’re all using the most powerful weapon today — your voice — which cannot be ignored,” Westfield High School junior Emma Wolynez said, according to the district’s press release. “Please use your voice to educate others and talk to family, friends and anyone who will listen to your ideas about safety and schools. At WHS, we are lucky to have administrators who will listen to us and value our voices, so use that to tell them what you want to see and what you are afraid of.”
“Today will be a day that Westfield students will not soon forget and will serve as a model in the future for how students can impact change within their own communities,” senior Dexter Cypress told students the gathering, the district said.
Sophomore Colin Sumner expressed the collective concerns of students, teachers, parents and administrators in the wake of school shootings and thanked the school district, Westfield police, fire and EMS departments and School Resource Officer Elizabeth Savnik for “putting our lives first and doing so much to ensure our safety,” according to the press release.
“I am extremely proud of our student organizers who were respectful and thoughtful in every step of their planning process,” Westfield High School Principal Dr. Derrick Nelson said in the release. “It is always important to listen to our students, especially on such an important topic as school safety, which affects us all.”
Wednesday morning, Westfield Police closed off Dorian Road between Rahway Avenue and Trinity Place. Parents and other members of the community gathered across the street from the high school to show their support.
“It’s good to be here. I thought it was important to show the students that the community supports them,” said Jamie Salzman, a mother of two elementary-aged children.“I don’t want to send my kids to school worrying that something is going to happen. We’ve got to do something and if these kids are the ones to do it, then the least we can do is support them.”
Leslie Wallant Langer, mother of a Westfield High School graduate, felt it was important to come out and show her support to the students.
“It’s amazing that the students took it upon themselves to do this. And they are going to do it again on the 24th,” she said, referencing the student-initiated Westfield March for Our Lives event planned for March 24.
Local parent Jennifer Gibbons said she decided to observe the event as she, too, was impressed by the initiative shown by the students.
“I’m proud to support our Westfield students looking to protect their future,” she said.
“I am glad that our student leaders proactively reached out to administrators at the high school and intermediate schools to plan this thoughtful remembrance,” Superintendent Margaret Dolan said in the press release. “This morning our students continued the strong tradition of Westfield students as active participants in our democracy.”