Ridgefield students seem ready to protest at the drop of a hat.
Three and a half weeks before their planned rally against gun violence at Ridgefield High School, a group of 11 students walked out of Tuesday night’s Board of Education meeting in dissent after hearing that the event should be moved to the weekend.
“Legally, I want to know what we’re doing here,” said board member Jim Keidel, who serves as an attorney at the firm Keidel, Weldon & Cunningham in Wilton.
He considered a waiver of liability for the April 20 event which is set to take place on school grounds.
“If they fall, if they trip and fall going down the stairs to Tiger Hollow. … There are lots of issues here cause they’re not attending school sitting in the class.”
He was also worried about how the National School Walkout at RHS on Friday, April 20, would affect school security, and wondered if the board should be sanctioning the rule-breaking event that would see kids walk out of school at 10 a.m. that day.
“Under the student guidelines, if someone’s out of school for 10 days, you need a doctor’s note. … What if someone walks out and that’s their 11th day?” Keidel asked.
“It’s a slippery slope,” he added.
The student organizers, led by RHS sophomore Lane Murdock, who founded the National School Walkout movement in February, sensed that the discussion wasn’t going in their favor and abruptly got up from their seats and left the room.
“You can protect us, but we’re going to walk out anyway,” senior Paul Kim told the board as he walked out.
Kim later told The Press that the decision to walk out had been spontaneous, and was not planned in advance by the students.
“I thought certain members of the board were speaking in pejoratives that were condescending toward, not just the walkout movement specifically but student activism as a whole,” he said. “We disagreed wholeheartedly with some of the opinions posed by certain board members and we hoped that by walking out we could express our contempt in a civil and productive manner.”
Murdock also said the walkout from the meeting was spontaneous. She pointed to hesitancy not only from Keidel but from other board members.
On Tuesday night, board member Tracey O’Connor wondered if the walkout movement would inspire similar protests on immigration or other political topics.
Board member Sharon D’Orso said she took issue with the “disruption to learning” that the walkout could cause. She also raised concern with the schools sanctioning a “political event” while school is in session.
Vice Chairman Doug Silver said the “friction” of civil disobedience was part of the event.
“The inherent nature of taking responsibility is also taking consequences,” he said.
Board member Jonathan Steckler questioned whether the schools should have a say in the event.
“I hope we don’t end up turning a beautiful act of civil disobedience into [getting] a permission slip,” he said.
RHS Principal Stacey Gross said that something could happen to students any day. She said she didn’t “have words to describe” how seriously she takes the safety of every human being in her building.
“But we shouldn’t let that fear prevent us from letting our students grow,” she said. “We’re asking, Can you help us figure out some kind of balance in that?”
Gross said she wanted the board to give her guidance on the event so she does not violate board policy by sanctioning the event — an offense that could cost her her job, she said.
The board voted for Gross to work with stakeholders to ensure the walkout is “conducted as safely as possible on school grounds, with minimum disruption to student learning.”
Murdock, who told the board the students expect to pay for security costs through raising funds from supporters, said the students were frustrated when the board appeared stuck between whether or not to support the rally.
“It was stated that those were the two options and they weren’t going to do either,” Murdock said after the meeting. “They were stalling. We have no patience for that. We are happy that Dr. Gross can now fully support us without risk of termination, and are glad that the board finally did go into action. That being said, they did so after we walked out.”