Morristown High School administrators laid careful plans for Wednesday’s National Student Walkout: Seventeen moments of silence–one for each person gunned down last month in a Parkland FL high school– would be observed as a “non-political act of solidarity” inside the safety of the building.
Any student attempting to leave could face suspension. Police and faculty kept an eye on every exit.
But junior Luke Lofrumento could not bear another solemn memorial. He slipped out a side door, past police, crossed Atno Avenue and kept walking–with a school official in hot pursuit.
“I couldn’t go to sleep at night if I didn’t do this,” Lofrumento said after leaving classmates who stood in hallways listening as names of students slain at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were read over a loudspeaker.
Morris School District Assistant Superintendent Kelly Harte ran after him, made sure he was okay, and gently asked if he would come back inside. The student politely declined.
“I understand the consequence, but I’ve got to do it,” Lofrumento said. He commended Principal Mark Manning’s handling of the event, but said hearing all those names was “powerful, and kind of sad,” and convinced him it was time to take a stand.
“It is about gun control. It is about trying to send a message to Congress so that no one else has to hear 16 names on the loudspeaker,” Lofrumento said.
More than 2,800 schools and universities across the country were scheduled to take part in the 10 a.m. event, started by Empower, the youth branch of the Women’s March.
Lofrumento walked, he said “because I feel that Congress should do something and act on gun control immediately. I think they need to raise the age minimum on buying guns. They also need to restrict the sale of automatic assault rifles. I think they should be completely banned from society.”
A handful of students with signs stepped out the front entrance of Morristown High School during the observance, then returned inside at its conclusion.
“It was really beautiful…really emotional,” Harte said of the indoor tribute, estimating a large majority of Morristown High’s 1,700 students participated. “I thought the whole demonstration was unbelievably appropriate and respectful. The kids were so great. This student obviously just felt the need to do something else.”
A letter to parents on Monday from the principal, Mark Manning, said the plans had been devised with input from student government leaders. For safety reasons, he said, students would not be permitted to leave the building.
“Students who adhere to these guidelines will not receive disciplinary consequences,” the principal wrote. Students said they were told anyone leaving would face suspension.
But District Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast said suspension is not “automatic.”
“We’re having conversations with students about how to influence change in the democratic process,” Pendergrast said. “It’s about a learning experience. I’m very proud of our students..it was a very respectful, contemplative environment.”
The superintendent said the District worked closely with police to ensure safety and security, always paramount, while honoring the memories of the Parkland students.
Although it was observed as a non-political event at the high school, the National Student Walkout afforded an opportunity to talk with students about ways to bring positive change, Pendergrast said.
“The purpose of educational institutions is to prepare students to participate in a democracy,” he said.
An organized sit-in, planned with input from student representatives, also was scheduled for Wednesday morning at the Frelinghuysen Middle School, said Principal Joseph Uglialoro.
Harte described Lofrumento as “a great kid,” and said school officials reached out to his parents immediately.
Lofrumento said he had discussed the National School Walkout with his parents, but “was torn” about what to do until he heard the Parkland names read aloud.
“Despite the school limiting the walkout to a non-political event, we never lost sight of the actual goal with this walkout,” said Morristown High School senior Bianca Shaw, who started the Walkout movement there.
“I feel like this walkout could’ve gone farther if we were able to bring the ideas and desire for gun control to the table. However it started a conversation throughout the student body and community. I’m hoping that students will now realize how impactful they can be and that we are going to be the ones to change the world and make a difference,” Shaw said.
Added Bella Simon of Melanin Minds, the school’s African American cultural club: “I think it is important that students all over the world are recognizing that there is power in numbers, and I hope that they were encouraged to continue voicing their opinions in the future.”
Lofrumento said he also plans to attend the March for Our Lives in Morristown on March 24, 2018. It’s part of a nationwide day of gun-reform marches started by student survivors of the Parkland massacre.