High school students from Greenport and Southold filed into the library at Mattituck High School Friday, joining Mattituck students seated in chairs forming a “U.”
Seated across from the students was State Senator Ken LaValle and State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, who fielded questions from the students about gun laws, school safety and mental health issues.
“I love the opportunity to come and interact with students because you are the future,” Mr. LaValle said.
Mr. Palumbo later added that the students are “100 percent crucial to this discussion.”
The high schoolers came prepared with questions for their elected officials, even questioning Mr. LaValle and Mr. Palumbo on how they voted in the past.
Student asked: What are your policies in response to school safety for small East End school districts? What legislation or programs are you supporting that empower high school students to meet their social or emotional needs?
In an effort to get to understand the students’ opinions on certain topics, the officials also asked questions of the students, such as: How do you feel about having armed guards, school resource officers or former police officers in your school?
This question got a variety of responses from students.
“I feel very strongly that armed guards are a good idea,” Mattituck junior Max Cantelmo said, adding that no matter how much gun legislation is put in place people would still be able to obtain and use weapons.
But his classmate, Alex Bellavilla, disagreed.
“You can arm guards or teachers, you can increase security, have backpack checks and other things like that, but for me it’s not just about protecting my school or all schools, it’s about protecting everywhere,” he said. “It’s a movie theater in Colorado. It’s a nightclub in Florida. It’s a shopping center in Arizona. It’s a concert in Las Vegas. You can’t necessarily arm everywhere and everyone … Maybe it’ll stop it in one instance, but there has to be somewhere where you get to the root cause of the gun sale in order to stop it at the source.”
Friday’s meeting was the brainchild of a handful of Mattituck students who spent over a month meeting with high school principal Shawn Petretti trying to devise a way to participate in last week’s national walkout and work toward increasing school safety.
In addition to a handful of student leaders from each school, each district superintendent and high school principal attended Friday’s discussion.
“I think it went well,” said David Gamberg, shared superintendent of Southold and Greenport schools. “I think that the dialogue was very respectful and the elected officials were responsive. They put a reasonable amount of responsibility back on the students to do simple things, yet important things — paying attention to what’s going on and being careful and considerate of others.”
Many students agreed that the conversations went well and were grateful to have the opportunity to voice the concerns of their student body.
“I think it went really well,” Greenport student John Wright said. “I think it’s great for Greenport, Mattituck and Southold to come together in this round-table discussion and I think it’s really great that we have politicians come out and give their time to us to lend our voices in a unified way.”
Others, however, felt there was more left to be desired by the visit.
“I felt that the conversation was not as productive as it could’ve been; the dialogue was steered more toward “be nice” and “hug someone” rhetoric rather than palpable gun reform,” Mattituck senior Mackenzie Daly said. “I am unequivocally grateful for these local politicians’ engagement with students, but I regret that we did not learn more about what these policy makers plan to do, or not to do.”
Mr. Palumbo called the students respectful and extremely kind, adding that their input during Friday’s discussion was extremely important.
Photo caption: State Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (left) and State Senator Ken LaValle answered students’ questions about gun control and mental health issues. (Nicole Smith photo)