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Mt. Abe students battle snow, bureaucracy for gun protest

BRISTOL — Four weeks after 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were shot to death, students from thousands of schools across the nation got up and walked out of class on Wednesday.
The National School Walkout, as the event was dubbed, was organized to honor the Parkland shooting victims and protest gun violence in America.
Many students at Mount Abraham Union High School had planned their own protests, but heavy snowfall the night before prompted school closings throughout Addison County. Protests in Middlebury proceeded in spite of the weather, but in Bristol Mount Abe students decided to reschedule.
Mount Abraham Student Activists, which goes by MASA, is a group led by senior Chloe Lyons, junior Rosa Tropp and sophomores Emma Campbell and Camille Lyons. MASA had planned two events for Wednesday, one on school grounds and one on the Bristol Town Green.
Regarding the school event, Mount Abe Principal Jessica Barewicz wrote in a letter to the school community that “a great group of student leaders and I have worked together to plan a 17-minute silence followed by student performances of music and poetry between 10 and 10:22. Classes will resume at 10:25.”
That event has now been rescheduled for the same time on Monday, March 19.
MASA had also organized a march from Mount Abe to the Bristol Town Green, where they intended to stage “a non-admin-approved, student-organized gun violence protest,” said Lyons.
The event, now rescheduled for Saturday, March 17, at 11 a.m., will include guest speakers, educational booths, art, music, voter registration and petitions for change. The protest is open to the entire community.
“We are here,” Lyons said, “and we will not stand for the continuation of gun violence in America.”
Now that the event is scheduled outside of school, the Mount Abe administration’s refusal to permit student attendance no longer applies.
However, the town of Bristol has refused to issue students a permit for their demonstration.
On March 9, Mount Abe 10th grader Camille Lyons filed MASA’s permit application with the Bristol Recreation Department. On March 13, Town Administrator Valerie Capels informed the students that a town ordinance prevented her from issuing the permit because MASA had not applied for it at least 30 days in advance.
The March 14 event would have occurred just 28 days after the Parkland school shooting MASA organizers intended to commemorate.
The Bristol selectboard did not wish to impede the students, Capels said, but they were bound by the ordinance to deny the permit request.
Members of the selectboard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If students go ahead with their plans to protest on the town green Saturday, the town administrator is required by the ordinance to give them a “warning.”
No such warnings have been issued since the ordinance was adopted, but Capels told students in an email that she expected it would cite relevant language from the ordinance itself.
Permit or no permit, Camille Lyons said MASA intends to hold its protest.
“We will not let that stop us from doing what we know will benefit us all and hurt no one. This is far more important then having the permission of the town,” she said.
The organizers are disappointed by the weather, she said, but they’re hoping the rescheduled event will draw a bigger turnout.
Christopher Ross can be reached at christopherr@addisonindependent.com.

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