Club Scandal

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Some of the students who tried to start the club flank Legislator Ellen Birnbaum at a press conference last spring.

Since ninth grade, I have always been told encouragingly by upperclassmen and teachers, “Don’t see a club here that’s for you, start your own.” So, that’s exactly what fellow senior Maytal Reiss and I tried to do.

Last spring at a school walkout that was not approved by the school, as administration members stood on the steps with their arms crossed staring us down as we marched to the location of the rally, something changed in me.

Maybe it was hearing—and subsequently crying during—the speech of Paul Guttenberg who told the crowd how his beautiful 14-year-old niece Jaime was shot to death at the horrific Parkland shooting.

Or, perhaps, it was meeting the truly amazing gun activist Lois Schaffer, who shared with me her own tragic story of her daughter being shot and killed in a home invasion gone wrong and has worked ever since for stricter gun laws to prevent other families from suffering this preventable grief.

Either way, I felt both so glad that I walked out and ignored the threats of receiving “cuts” from my school. At the same time, I felt so ashamed that my school didn’t support this event, which should be personal and important to each and every one of us.

It’s not about politics—we all have loved ones, and we all would be destroyed if they were shot and killed whether in school, at a concert or even at home.

However, the administration doesn’t see it this way. When we first informed them of our interest in starting a March for Our Lives club in our school, we were immediately discouraged with the most absurd explanations.

Maytal and I were asked: “How are you going to find a room and time to meet?” “How are you going to find an advisor?” And, finally, “What if no one signs up?”

The first two questions were details that every single club that was created before ours managed to figure out pretty easily and, in fact, we already had a willing teacher who would supervise our club.

The last question was absurd, as that could have been asked of the founders of any school club that is now really popular.

Why was the administration so concerned that we wouldn’t get a lot of members? When we came back with answers for every question and proved that we were willing to put in the work necessary to run a club, we were then told we still couldn’t have our club because funding for clubs is established the spring before the next school year, so we would have to find a dying club to take over.

When my face reflected the confusion and hurt that I was feeling, I was asked, “Are you OK?” When I explained the frustrations of wanting our own club and wanting to find out for ourselves “if no one would sign up,” I was told nothing that eased my concerns, and we walked out feeling defeated.

Still, we didn’t give up and found a way to be allowed to have a table at the club fair, where we ended up having 72 people sign up in the half hour we were there. Plus, 20 others who weren’t at the fair told us that they wanted to join, too.

Excited to show administration the interest our club was gaining, Maytal went to the same person who we met with previously to show him the list of students, only to be told that our club “would be a conflict of interest,” that “it’s a partisan issue” and that it wouldn’t be a separation of church and state. Once again, these responses make absolutely no sense.

March for Our Lives is a nonpartisan organization, and our school already has clubs that are affiliated with outside organizations.

What we learned that day was that all the previous excuses as to why we couldn’t have our club were just attempts to stop us from continuing to pursue it, because the real reason was that the school was too afraid of controversy to allow it.

Another sad thing about this is that the administrator told us in the beginning that it was a shame that we couldn’t have the club, because he really believed in it—and to just write on our college applications that we tried to start a club and the school shut us down.

I can’t believe the level of deception we faced when we were trying to create a club to get kids involved in the movement to end school shootings, which you would think the administration of a school would support.

The fact that they think this is a partisan issue, when it has been proven time and time again that gun violence does not discriminate and that everyone is at risk of losing their lives in a mass shooting, is truly disheartening.

We made sure to publicize at the club fair that our club welcomed all members, regardless of political party, because we all have the right to voice our opinions. This same constitutional right is being blatantly violated by Great Neck North High School as we, as Americans, all possess the right of free speech, as well as the right to assemble.

The point of my writing isn’t to pressure our school into letting us have this club, as we have since founded an official regional chapter of March for Our Lives that has garnered a lot of support, and we plan to hold meetings at the Great Neck Library.

No one should have to jump through all the hoops that Maytal and I did, only to find out it was all just a tactic to prevent us from starting a club that could possibly result in a few angry phone calls to administration.

If we let the fear of potentially upsetting a few people stop us from doing things to try and promote the change we want to see in this world, that change will never come.

It saddens me that my school, which is supposed to encourage me to use what I’ve learned to go out and make a difference, instead tried to stop me from doing just that.

I hope that by sharing my experience I not only shed light on the injustice students face here in Great Neck when they actually try to speak their minds, but also inspire the administration of North to stop being so afraid of potential backlash—and not only let their students try to promote change in this world, but also encourage them to do so.

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