Catholic high school principals in Queens demand ‘proactive change’ in wake of Florida school shooting

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The principals of 18 Catholic high schools in Brooklyn and Queens signed a joint open letter calling on elected officials to take “long overdue” action to prevent a repeat of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month.

In the letter that QNS received on March 1, the 18 principals expressed sympathies to the faculty, staff, parents and students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 people were slaughtered on Feb. 14. The massacre — in which a former student, carrying a semi-automatic rifle, shot teenagers and the adults who tried to protect them — reignited a national debate over gun control.

“We stand in support of the Parkland, FL survivors as they draw strength in knowing that their efforts to effect necessary change are heard,” the letter states. “We call on our elected leaders to do everything necessary to help us protect students against senseless acts such as the one in Florida and too many others across the country.”

Among the signees representing Queens Catholic high schools were Darius Penikas of Archbishop Molloy High School in Briarwood; Richie Diaz of Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary in Elmhurst; Geri Martinez of Christ the King High School in Middle Village; Edward Burns of Holy Cross High School in Flushing; James Castrataro of Msgr. McClancy Memorial High School in East Elmhurst; Susan Nicoletti of St. Agnes Academic High School in College Point; Patrick McLaughlin of St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows; William Higgins of St. John’s Preparatory School in Astoria; and Sr. Kathleen McKinney of The Mary Louis Academy in Jamaica Estates.

The Parkland incident was the deadliest school shooting in the United States since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, in which 26 people — including 20 young children — were gunned down by an assailant armed with an AR-15 assault weapon.

In the weeks following the Parkland massacre, Marjory Stonemann Douglas students have led a nationwide campaign calling on elected officials to increase gun regulations in order to prevent another mass shooting from happening. While some have called for a new assault weapons ban and laws that would prevent individuals with criminal records or mental health issues from buying firearms, others have suggested more defensive measures.

The debate spurred companies to break ties with the National Rifle Association — which has repeatedly dismissed calls for new gun regulations — and prompted retailers such as Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods to impose new age restrictions on firearm sales (Dick’s Sporting Goods also announced it would stop selling assault weapons).

The joint letter from Brooklyn and Queens principals seemed to allude to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that teachers be allowed to carry firearms to potentially stop an active shooter.

“As principals, we are responsible for carrying out the mission of our schools, the education of our students and the safety and security of the adolescents in our care,” the letter continued. “As educators, we are facing a world where we are increasingly called upon to become the last line of defense against unspeakable horrors.”

The letter reminded all of the mission of Catholic education “to form children in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ … while providing a comprehensive academic education that will help them reach their full human potential and contribute to the common good of our nation and the world.” Noting that their current students “are the leaders and policy makers of tomorrow,” they stressed the importance of standing “as examples to them and the morality, justice and peace which we expect them to go forth and spread in the world.”

“Collectively, we as Catholic educators — as Americans — know that these attacks must stop, and the time for action on all levels is long overdue,” the letter concluded. “We unite in one voice to call upon our elected officials to effect nothing less than meaningful, proactive change.”

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