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Apr 21, 2018 11:19 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Montauk Community Hosts March For Their Lives To Promote School Safety

Montauk children hold signs and participate in the March For Their Lives in Montauk. JON WINKLER
Apr 24, 2018 3:40 PM

As the wind pushed against them and others were hurrying to get home to start their weekends, parents and children of the Montauk community chanted for change and waved signs up Main Street from Kirk Park to the Montauk gazebo on Friday advocating to make schools safer for children.

The march was organized by members of the Montauk Community Church and St. Therese Catholic Church and began at 4:30 p.m. Once arriving at the gazebo, attendees heard fellow members of the community speak their minds about the heightened fear of school shootings in America.

Bill Hoffmann, pastor of the Montauk Community Church, said last Thursday that the demonstration grew out of conversations he and other members of the community had about how to respond to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February, when 17 people were killed.

“We all care about keeping our kids safe,” Mr. Hoffmann said. “Our kids go to the same school—this is a very intimate community—and when we lose sight of that, we become less productive.”

Mr. Hoffmann emphasized that this march, held on the 19th anniversary of a school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, was not meant to advocate for gun control like other marches occurring nationwide on April 20 or the March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., on March 24. Instead, he said, the goal was to bring the community together and vocalize its support for schools to focus more on safety in light of the Parkland shooting.

He added that the march was meant to be an “important start” to more conversation about how to ensure that shootings never happen again, especially on local grounds.

“We do a lot of yelling at each other and not much gets done,” Mr. Hoffmann said. “I want to sit down after this and ask others, ‘Are there other things that we can help foster in the community?’”

One key participant of that eventual conversation would be J. Philip Perna, superintendent of the Montauk School. Mr. Perna marched with students and parents, saying he agrees that the issue is multi-layered.

“We need security, counselors, social workers and civility in our schools. My concern is the response time in Montauk,” Mr. Perna said, referring to how quickly police could take action if an incident occurred at the school. “I have all the confidence in the world in our local police, but because of the distance, I don’t know where they’ll be at any moment.”

Priscilla Stein, a Montauk resident with two children, one at the Montauk School and one at East Hampton High School, commended Mr. Perna for beefing up security at the Montauk School by recently hiring a security guard to monitor the hallways. But she added that she was saddened at the loss of the “small-town feel” due to the heightened security measures in light of Parkland.

“You can’t just swing by the school to drop off some cupcakes,” Ms. Stein said. “Now you have to give your name, get a name tag and get clearance from the school before you go in. But it’s what has to be done to keep kids safe.”

Heather D’Agostino, a math teacher at The Ross School in East Hampton, was making an appearance at her second march of the day, after Ross students participated in a walkout earlier that day protesting gun violence. In fact, some of the students who appeared at the Ross walkout also appeared at the Montauk march.

“Our children need to know that they are supported on these issues and can create their own opinions,” said Ms. D’Agostino, who has two daughters. “They’re eager to learn and participate in this debate.”

One of the speakers at the march was Gianna Gregorio, a senior at East Hampton High School who had participated in a school walkout on March 14 protesting gun violence.

“I implore you to listen to those with different views than yourself,” Gianna said. “Listen with an open heart and mind, but engage with those who might not understand your side.”

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Another stupid school principal. Do you have a gun problem in Montauk or do you have a drug problem? The people leading some of these schools have no brains.
By chief1 (2790), southampton on Apr 22, 18 9:41 AM
What does the principal have anything to do with this article?

Your comment is literally the only instance of the word "principal" on this page.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8057), HAMPTON BAYS on Apr 22, 18 9:59 AM
1 member liked this comment
Hey, ease up. That’s chief1 , he complains about everything.
By Fred s (3197), Southampton on Apr 22, 18 8:44 PM
1 member liked this comment