Hartford High students walk out in support of Palestinians

Nicola Husmann, 17, of Hartland, leads chants in support of Palestinians caught up in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, during a demonstration in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, May 23, 2024. Husmann, a Hartford High School junior, was joined by, from left, Molly Armbrust, 18, of West Hartford, who is home-schooled, and fellow Hartford High students Alex Hultquist, 16, Jamie Hyde, 17, obscured, Jonah Libens-Mavodones, 17, obscured, Harvey Brown, 17, and Liam Mangieri, 16, who walked out of school for the protest shortly before 2 p.m. Husman said the group wanted to bring attention to the students in Gaza who have been left without schools because of the destruction from fighting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Nicola Husmann, 17, of Hartland, leads chants in support of Palestinians caught up in the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, during a demonstration in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, May 23, 2024. Husmann, a Hartford High School junior, was joined by, from left, Molly Armbrust, 18, of West Hartford, who is home-schooled, and fellow Hartford High students Alex Hultquist, 16, Jamie Hyde, 17, obscured, Jonah Libens-Mavodones, 17, obscured, Harvey Brown, 17, and Liam Mangieri, 16, who walked out of school for the protest shortly before 2 p.m. Husman said the group wanted to bring attention to the students in Gaza who have been left without schools because of the destruction from fighting. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news photographs — James M. Patterson

Hartford High School junior Nicola Husmann, 17, of Hartland, presses a

Hartford High School junior Nicola Husmann, 17, of Hartland, presses a "Free Palestine" print onto cloth held by her classmate Liam Mangieri, 16, of Quechee, while making patches in White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, May 23, 2024. They were among a small group of students who walked out of class to draw attention to Palestinians suffering amid the Israel-Hamas war. The group also organized and in-school field trip on Friday, May 24 during which students can opt in to view a film in the school’s library with a discussion to follow. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Six Hartford High School students, one home schooled student and two outside supporters march through White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, May 24, 2024, chanting in support for Gazans who sought refuge in Rafah during the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and are now suffering under an Israeli offensive into the city. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Six Hartford High School students, one home schooled student and two outside supporters march through White River Junction, Vt., on Thursday, May 24, 2024, chanting in support for Gazans who sought refuge in Rafah during the conflict between Israel and Hamas, and are now suffering under an Israeli offensive into the city. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

By LIZ SAUCHELLIand JAMES M. PATTERSON

Valley News Staff Writers

Published: 05-24-2024 6:02 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Six Hartford High School students, and one home-schooled student who takes classes at the high school, walked out of class this week in protest of the treatment of Palestinians living in Gaza.

After leaving the high school on Thursday afternoon, the group, who ranged in age from 16 to 18, marched through White River Junction chanting in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

They were joined along the march by Taylor Barnes, of Barnard, and Barnes’ spouse, who declined to identify himself; the pair arrived independently from the students and joined them to show support.

Nicola Husman, 17, a Hartford junior who lead the chants on the march through the heart of the village, said that, as students themselves, the group wanted to bring attention to the students in Gaza who have been left without schools in the destruction caused by fighting. The group stopped at the intersection of Bridge Street and Railroad Row to rest and make block print patches that said, “Free Palestine.”

Students who were part of the protest also were part of a group who attended a Hartford School Board meeting earlier this month to encourage the district to allow teachers to engage students in dialogue about the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Their actions follow other Upper Valley activism, including May 1 at Dartmouth College where police arrested 89 protesters on the Dartmouth Green. It also comes at a time when a group of Hartford residents involved with Upper Valley for Palestine are gathering signatures for a Hartford Ceasefire Resolution, which they plan to present at Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting.

“While the school supports students exercising their first amendment rights, it does not condone walking out of school and missing a scheduled class,” Hartford Superintendent Tom DeBalsi wrote in an email. “Consequences will be the same as for any student who skips a class.”

According to Hartford High School’s 2023/24 Student/Parent Handbook, students “who leave campus without signing out” could receive detention or those “who leave campus without permission may be suspended (in-school) for 1 day.”

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The students who participated were aware of the consequences they could face. Prior to the walkout, which took place from 1:40 to 2:45 p.m., students passed out zines that said “Walk out for Palestine.” In the small, four-page publication, they included: “warning: this is not a school sanctioned event you could face consequences/disciplinary action. please make an informed choice to participate.”

The same zine, under a heading labeled: “Why/What Are We Protesting?” they said they oppose the way Israel has treated Palestinians over the years, as well as the actions Israel has taken since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and the military aid the U.S. has given to Israel over the decades.

“Though we individually can’t stop the genocide, it is our responsibility as US citizens to cause disruption and not stay silent about Palestine,” they wrote.

Among the chants the students shouted was “from the river to the sea” which is seen as controversial and has been interpreted as antisemitic by some supporters of Israel.

“I do not interpret this (chant) to be a call for complete and singular Palestinian control of Israel/Palestine. From my perspective, it speaks more to the right of Palestinian people to freedom, safety, resources, human rights and autonomy than it does to any specific political action,” Molly Armbrust, a homeschool student who takes classes at Hartford High School and joined Thursday’s protest halfway through. “It recognized that Palestinian people throughout Israel/occupied Palestine are living within an apartheid system and that all have the right to be free from the occupation.”

Armbrust added that the land’s history is complex and a resolution to the decades-long conflict between the two groups is not simple.

“Speaking about the Palestinians’ right to freedom does not imply that Israelis should not also be afforded these rights,” Armbrust, 18, wrote. “All people deserve safety, agency, freedom, autonomy, rights (etc.) The focus on Palestinians’ rights is due to the active threat they are currently facing.”

Armbrust said that the community’s response to students’ efforts to support Palestine have been mixed.

“Some are certainly supportive, and many have expressed gratitude that we are bringing conversations around Palestine to our school community, but others are certainly concerned and/or opposed to our efforts,” Armbrust wrote. “Personally, I believe that it is our duty as people to sta nd up against injustice and oppression especially when our government has failed to do so.”

The group also organized an in-school field trip Friday during which students could opt in to view a film in the school’s library with a discussion to follow. Armbrust said students want to organize another film screening before the end of the school year.

James M. Patterson can be reached a jpatterson@vnews.com. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.c om or 603-727-3221.