Approximately 150 Southampton High School students held a peaceful sit-in in the school lobby last week to protest the results of last week’s failed Tuckahoe/Southampton merger vote.
On Friday morning, event organizer and sophomore Sebastian Cuyjet, 16, said many of the students in the district were disappointed with the results of the October 29 straw vote, which would have advanced a proposed annexation of the Tuckahoe School District by the Southampton School District to a second vote by the combined school districts.
Although the merger proposal passed overwhelmingly in the Tuckahoe School District, 565-35, it failed with Southampton School District residents, 1,075-693. Both districts had to approve the measure in a preliminary vote to send it to a second vote to formalize its approval.
Without the merger, Tuckahoe officials have said, they may have to pull Tuckahoe’s high school students from the Southampton district to save money on tuition. Tuckahoe students make up approximately a third of the Southampton High School population.
“I decided to organize this sit-in of the student body to show that we are really disappointed in the Southampton adult community about the result of the merger,” Sebastian said in a phone interview from the protest. Sebastian, who has never attended the Tuckahoe School, said he feels strongly in favor of the merger. “Tuckahoe and Southampton students, we are family. Tuckahoe students have been here for years, and we like the social diversity, and social flow, that happens here every day.”
Another student organizer, 16-year-old Stefania Gonzalez, a junior who attended the Tuckahoe School for one year before transferring to Southampton, said the students were prepared to stay in the school lobby until they felt their voices had been heard, and were willing to stay there all day if necessary. She added that the protest was on behalf of the entire student body, and not just a select few.
“We want to be heard,” Stefania said on Friday. “We will stay as long as we feel that someone has heard us.”
On Friday morning, Southampton School Superintendent Dr. Scott Farina said the protest was peaceful, and that the students sat in the atrium of the high school, just outside the auditorium. He added that the merger was a very important subject among the students.
“I certainly don’t have any problem with a peaceful protest,” Dr. Farina said. “I am proud of the students. This is an important, and emotional, topic for them.”
On Friday morning, Southampton Principal Dr. Brian Zahn said the protest was well organized and that students were honoring administrators’ requests to keep the sit-in to one area and not block fire exits or hallways. He added that the protest came after several days of questions about what students could do to support the merger. Dr. Zahn said he spoke with several students last week, including members of the student council, about how to voice their opinion on the topic, but said he knew nothing about the protest until it started.
“I can tell you there has been a level of disappointment among all of our students that you can really feel here at the high school,” he said. “The kids are very concerned about how their future here together looks, and what the future of Southampton High School looks like.”
One student, sophomore Aidan Roughan, said he hopes parents reconsider the merger. As a Tuckahoe student, Aidan said, he does not want to change schools next year, noting that he prefers Southampton over other surrounding districts. “We don’t want to leave,” he said from the protest. “That is why I’m happy with the turnout.”
Another sophomore, Palmer Egan, said he does not want to see the impact pulling Tuckahoe students from the district will have on Southampton sports and extracurricular activities.
“All of our sports teams rely on these kids who are from Tuckahoe,” he said. “If they left, I wouldn’t be able to have my friends at school.”
The protest lasted until the end of the school day on Friday.
Across town in Tuckahoe, Superintendent Chris Dyer said he believed the protest had been sparked by emotions felt throughout both communities. He said he was encouraging children to express their opinions, and he invited them to attend a Tuckahoe School Board meeting that was to be held Monday night.
“Children are wonderful expressions of their families and their community,” Mr. Dyer said. “We live in a dual community, with one high school predominantly attended by our kids. There are so many emotions that are going on in our community right now. We are proud of all of our kids.”