Students, supporters share views on violence with council

Published Mar 15, 2018 at 4:10pm

Students and supporters spoke at the Common Council meeting Wednesday about that morning’s 17-minute silent observance by Free Academy students inside the school for the 17 people killed in the Feb. 14 shootings at a Parkland, Fla. high school. The council then passed a resolution in support of a local rally in connection with the March for Our Lives planned for March 24.

News media were not allowed inside RFA during the event.

Students look ahead to March 24 rally

Michaella Janes, a junior at RFA, spoke at the council meeting, and more students were in the audience.

“The tragedies of this magnitude have been occurring for years,” said Janes. “The outrage sparked by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has been impossible to ignore.” She said the Rome march being planned will “show solidarity with the students who will go to Washington, D.C., on March 24. It is our hope that regardless of partisan divide, all of us can be united under the common goal of making our schools as safe as possible for teachers and students alike.”

She continued: "No matter where we fall on the political spectrum, school safety is an issue that has the potential to impact each and every one of us. It is easy to get lost in emotion and become paralyzed in the wake of a tragedy, but it is essential that we channel all of our thoughts and feelings into action, to ensure that students throughout the nation have the ability to safely pursue am education. Though change can be a complex process, it is our hope that all of us can once again stand together as a community during this March For Our Lives event, and show solidarity with our fellow citizens who are attempting to move forward, and ensure that change does come."

“The silence is deafening in the moment,” said John George, junior class president. “We’re going to do good things.”

Supporters praise students

Christina Hernandez of West Bloomfield Street, who has a brother at RFA, said, “I think it’s incredible that you have high school students here today” speaking passionately about the issue of gun violence and safety in schools.

David Amidon, Townline Road, spoke as well. “In response to what has become an all too familiar tragic scene in our country, our children have found themselves in a position to demand action from our elected officials. Their lives matter and their voices will not be silenced. It’s heartbreaking at best that these tragedies are a reality, yet here we are again. Another senseless act of violence and the loss of 17, more, precious lives.”

He continued: “I admire these students and their efforts to create a needed change in our society, for their own safety, security and future, and that of future generations. I will walk beside these students on Saturday, March 24, in support of their goals and determination in creating a government that values their lives, and in memory of all those whom have died.”

Michael Brown of Fort Stanwix Street South said that the students “really care about their school and their community.” As a county legislator, he said he wants to take this topic back to the county for more dialogue.

Kathleen Murphy of Franklyn Street said school violence is “a sad situation,” but it can be addressed. To those that say metal detectors are unreliable, she said, she’d rather have some false alarms than more tragedy.

Councilors add to dialogue

Two teachers in the Rome system on the council had high praise for the students. Councilor Cam T. Tien, D-1, a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher, recognized students’ “engagement in citizenship. I’m really proud of you guys, what you’re doing today and what you will be doing March 24.”

Councilor Riccardo D. Dursi Jr., R-6, an RFA history teacher, said this was the reason he helped found the Youth Council as a companion to the Common Council. “They are creating the movement. That’s where the power comes from,” he said of students. “These are the conversations that we should have. There is more to this than one incident in Florida or the Second Amendment.”

Councilor Ramona L. Smith, D-4, has been helping students organize an event in Rome on March 24. The plan is for a march outside in one of two places, though the location is still being chosen. The students will march outside and hold a rally. Students will have petitions for the support of safe schools and also have voter enrollment forms, Smith noted.

At the meeting, Smith said it takes commitment, hard work, time and dedication to effect this change. But, she cautioned, one must work even after the march to accomplish the goal. “The students are speaking out and telling us that they don’t feel safe in their school. Through civic engagement these students are taking a first step in becoming responsible members of our community. As community members and elected officials its essential that we support these students by taking action that effect real policy changes that result in safe schools. We can and must be part of the solution.”

Councilor Frank R. Anderson, R-5, said, “the assembly in Rome was much more powerful” than a walk-out, which was what students at many schools across the county chose to do. He urged continued dialogue.

“We don’t go to anywhere near that length to protect our kids in school,” lamented Councilor Kimberly A. Rogers, R-3, about the security she had to go through recently just to get into a local courthouse. She also urged students to keep the issue at the forefront as time goes on.

Council President Stephanie Viscelli urged students to use their voice. “use that First Amendment right,” even when it’s not an easy topic.

The council resolution states: “Local high school students have responded to the invitation to support the ‘March for Our Lives’ movement and these actions demonstrate caring and their ability to become responsible members of the City of Rome.” It continues, noting the council “supports the local high school students’ rally and ‘March for Our Lives,’ and recognizes their peaceful efforts to have a safe place to learn.”