Student punished for walkout runs for school board

Student punished for walkout runs for school board
Courtesy: Gabrielle Anzalone via CNN
Gabrielle Anzalone

Many soon-to-be graduates are ready to close the door on high school, but Gabrielle Anzalone has her mind set on joining her district’s school board.

Anzalone, 18, graduates from Lindenhurst High School on Long Island next month but could become the newest member of the Lindenhurst Board of Education with Tuesday’s election.

The teen was first inspired to run for office when she and other students were disciplined for joining a March 14 walkout on the one-month anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“As students, our voices were ironically unheard by those who are supposed to represent us and our interests,” Anzalone told CNN. “In no way am I running to spite the board. If elected, I plan to cooperate and work hard to resolve the issues in my community.”

She’s running for an open board seat against Josephine Martino, a parent and ex-PTA leader of another school. If elected, Anzalone would hold the position until June 2020 and would be the board’s youngest member.

“I will work tirelessly towards bridging the generational gap between the student body and the members serving on the board,” her official campaign statement says on Facebook.

Anzalone’s punishment after the walkout was later reversed, but she said the feeling of not being heard by school officials stuck with her.

“I will make sure that students will have a safe and reliable outlet for their concerns to be heard and taken seriously,” she said. “I also aim to make education in and of itself a priority as well as resolve budgeting issues through creative means that will best benefit the students and the community at large.”

The day of the walkout

Thousands of students across the United States walked out of class on March 14 to demand stricter gun laws and pay tribute to the lives lost in the Parkland shooting. The 17-minute walkout — one minute for each of the 17 people killed at the Florida school — began around 10 a.m. in each time zone.

Ahead of the planned walkout, Lindenhurst High principal Clinton Grant sent a letter to parents that encouraged students to participate instead in a movement in which they would share messages of kindness to 14 students and three faculty members.

Grant also outlined activities to pay tribute to the lives lost that included a poster board for students to sign for Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and a brief memorial led by the student council.

“In preparation for that day, as principal, I’ve met with the school administration, as well as members of student leadership, to plan an event that allows students to have their voices heard, while ensuring a safe and secure environment,” the letter to parents said. “As student safety is our greatest concern, the district does not condone a walkout of any kind.”

Anzalone said she knew about the school’s position on the walkout but was prepared to act.

“I emailed my principal telling him I was fully aware of the repercussions but would still follow through with my plan to walk out,” she said. “I understood the school’s concern for safety, but the suppression of our voices is perhaps what bothered me the most.”

Over the next few days, her school issued a punishment of extended detention, but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the state Education Department to reverse all disciplinary action against students who participated in the walkout.

On the campaign trail

The Lindenhurst High senior is juggling finals and preparing for college on top of campaigning. “Between balancing campaigning, clubs, work, hobbies, AP classes, family, friends, etc., I have learned one very important thing: It’s all about time management!” she said.

She hopes to embark soon on a new journey at Molloy College, about 40 minutes away, where she’ll major in political science and new media.

To run for office, Anzalone had to get 36 signatures on a petition to the board that was submitted in April. She’s 18 and lives in the school district so she’s eligible as a candidate.

Her campaign has even caught the eye of Parkland student Jaclyn Corin, who tweeted her support her Anzalone.

The polls open Tuesday morning in Lindenhurst, and Anzalone should know by the evening if she’ll be the newest member of the board.

“Win or lose, I am honored to have been able to run for the position at all,” she said. “At the end of the day, I just hope I will be able to make a meaningful difference in this world, whether it’s through the Board of Education or some other means.”