RFA students pause to honor Fla. shooting victims

Published Mar 14, 2018 at 12:09pm

An estimated 1,000 or more Rome Free Academy students took part in a 17-minute observance inside school this morning for the 17 persons killed in the Feb. 14 shootings at a Parkland, Fla. high school, said a student who helped organize it.

The “lock-in” event, in which no one could leave or enter the building during the 17 minutes, included students gathering in RFA’s main lobby and near the library upstairs, said Aaron Cianfrano, an RFA freshman and president of the Class of 2021. RFA has about 1,500 students overall in grades 9-12.

The 17-minute observance was to “take a minute to honor each life lost” in the Florida shootings, Cianfrano said prior to the event. Students were to be silent during the observance. RFA’s student officers for grades 9-12 were involved in organizing the event, Cianfrano added.

News media were not allowed inside RFA during the “lock-in” event, said RFA Principal Brian LeBaron.

Students around the country had planned activities for today in reaction to the Florida incident, according to the Associated Press. The AP cited plans for “nearly 3,000 protests nationwide,” including students from elementary to college levels; among activities were roadside rallies to honor shooting victims and protest violence, while others were to hold demonstrations in school gums or on football fields.

RFA student leaders had emphasized that their event was not a protest, but was a way to show support for the Florida victims, said Cianfrano. He said prior to the observance that “it shows how much our students care. Honoring the lives lost in Florida is a good deed to do, as a school.”

The AP said the nationwide coordinated activities were loosely organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March which brought thousands to Washington, D.C. last year. The group urged students to leave class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes, one for each Florida shooting victim, and suggested demands for lawmakers including an assault weapons ban and mandatory background checks for all gun sales.

The RFA observance originally had been planned as a student walkout, said Cianfrano, but he added it was changed to a lock-in because the administration did not want students leaving the building during the day due to safety reasons. He said prior to the event that it was supported by school district Superintendent Peter C. Blake, and Cianfrano expressed appreciation for that.

Blake said Monday that “the student body made me aware of their thoughts over the weekend. I think that any demonstration in support of those that lost their lives and were wounded anywhere in any school shooting ever is a great idea.” RFA’s students are very thoughtful, respectful and conscious of the world around them, he added.

“I am pleased that they chose to stay inside as opposed to exiting the building in mass at a prescribed time, which would be unsafe in my opinion,” Blake said. “The RFA students continue to amaze me and I am proud to work for their futures.”

Blake on Wednesday last week had assemblies with RFA students to discuss school security measures, what can be done to prevent a tragedy like the Florida school shooting, and students’ social/emotional mental health. He said Friday that he supports students’ desire to show support for others and raise awareness, and that he trusts students to “be appropriate with whatever event they plan.”

Blake also was asked whether disciplinary actions would be taken against students if such an event disrupted classes/educational time. He said Friday “as long as students remain safe and participate in the event only, not use the opportunity to leave campus or disrupt those that choose to not participate, we will not penalize them through the code of conduct for this event.”

Among area locations were student events had been planned today were Oneida High School and at Donovan Middle School, according to womensmarch.com online. Proctor High School and JFK Middle School in Utica also had events, said school district Director of Curriculum and Instruction Lori Eccleston.