Some CR students attend town hall, others join walkout

Around 200 students attended a Town Hall at Caesar Rodney High School on Wednesday to address school safety issues in the wake of a tragic school shooting in Florida. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

CAMDEN — It was a start.

At least that’s what many of the approximately 200 students who attended a town hall-style meeting with five state legislators at Caesar Rodney High School said on Wednesday.

The morning forum sparked dialogue between students and state lawmakers regarding school safety, gun laws and mental health issues.

However, the students stressed, there is still an extremely long road to travel.

Feelings of uneasiness in schools across the country remained on Wednesday, a month after a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, took an AR-15 assault-style rifle into one of the school buildings and opened fire, killing 14 students and three staff members.

From left, Rep. Jeff Spiegleman, Sen. Brian Bushweller, Rep. Lyndon Yearick, Rep. Trey Paradee and Rep. Charles Postles participated in a Town Hall event at Caesar Rodney High School on Wednesday that addressed school safety, gun control and mental health issues.

Caesar Rodney Principal Sherry Kijowski estimated that around 200 students at CR chose to defy school administrators and join many others around the nation in walking out of their respective schools Wednesday in hope of getting legislators to enact tougher gun restriction laws.

CR Superintendent Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald had previously said he had concerns over students’ safety in regard to a walkout, which took place on the school’s football field and was not accessible to the media.

Ms. Kijowski also said 200 students chose to participate in the town hall in the school’s auditorium.

State Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, along with State Reps. Trey Paradee, D-Cheswold, Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Clayton, Charles Postles, R-Milford, and Lyndon Yearick, R-Dover South, attended the town hall.

Students line up to ask state legislators questions at Caesar Rodney High School’s Town Hall event on Wednesday.

They spoke about their positions and answered questions from the students.

CR senior Cami Lord said she didn’t have a problem with students who participated in the walkout.

“I think (having a walkout) was a good idea, but I was a little concerned with my personal safety with it just as far as how people might react who were against it,” Ms. Lord said. “It was a good thought, but I think something a little more safe and constructive was done with the town hall.”
‘Meaningful conversation’

Ella Wisniewski, a senior at CR, said she enjoyed getting the chance to interact with state legislators.

“I think that it was definitely a good start for representatives to begin a meaningful conversation with their constituents,” she said. “I think that a lot of good points were brought up and it was a good basis for students to get ideas about what to email their representatives and senators about in the future.”

The biggest problem with the town hall event, according to students, was that it lasted just under an hour.

So only a handful of the attendees got the chance to ask the legislators questions.

“I think there needs to be more,” Ms. Lord said. “I think it kind of cut short a little bit and not everybody got to voice their opinions, but it was definitely a good start to making a change and making us feel more safe in our schools.”

Rep. Paradee said Delaware is in a better position when it comes to gun laws than many other states are.

“There’s a lot of things that we already have in place in Delaware that are not in place in other parts of the country,” he said. “For instance, we do have universal background checks. We do not have a gun-show loophole.

“There are places in the United States where someone can walk into a gun show and buy a semi-automatic weapon without having to undergo any type of background check. That does not happen here in Delaware.”

Rep. Paradee added, “I would love to sit here and say that what happened in Florida could not happen here, I wish we could all say that, but certainly anything is possible.”

Rep. Yearick told the students at CR that there is a cost involved in giving up certain rights.

“As for the essence of school safety, I think there is a tremendous commitment from the governor, superintendents and principals to provide safety,” he said. “It also concerns costs. What costs do you want to give up for your freedoms and other rights?”

Sen. Bushweller said he was more interested in hearing the students’ thoughts about the issues rather than providing his own.

“I hope that what we hear (Wednesday) is not just questions for us, but comments from you,” Sen. Bushweller said. “I want to hear what you have to say.

“We hear from a lot of people all the time about all these issues, but this is one of the few times I get to sit with a couple hundred high school students and hear what you have to say.”

On point with questions

Jay McCormick, who teaches social studies and other classes at Caesar Rodney, served as moderator of the town hall.

He said he was impressed by the students’ questions, which included one asking if they could impose limits on the amount of ammunition a person could buy.

Another student asked if maybe homeless veterans might be able to help protect schools while getting employment at the same time.

And there was a question asked about installing metal detectors in schools and one student who asked, “Where do we draw the line on what kind of gun we can own?”

“I thought it went very well,” Mr. McCormick said. “I thought the questions the students asked were very much on point. We wanted to make sure that they understood what their questions were going to be going towards, including school safety, gun control and mental health issues, and all the questions dealt with that in some capacity.

“You can see how even after the event the legislators are interested in talking to the students and hearing what they have to say, so I thought it was a very productive session.”

The students were not forced to attend the town hall.

“It was all voluntary,” said Mr. McCormick. “They expressed an interest, they came, and they had a true desire to be here and I think you could see that in the numbers of students that went to the microphones.

“They really wanted to interact with their legislators, which was awesome to see.”

The students also came loaded with ideas.

The search for safety

“I think that small steps in the right direction, such as locking more doors, or perhaps introducing more SROs (School Resource Officers) or constables, that small steps like that would be in the right direction of making sure the school is a more safe and secure environment,” Ms. Wisniewski said.

Ms. Lord also has her own ideas regarding improved school safety.

“We have 2,000 students at Caesar Rodney and one resource officer, which I don’t think is fair,” she said. “I think they need to balance it by the size of your student body. I think that would help to contribute to making us feel more safe.”

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