HOLLISTON, Mass. - Students and parents in Holliston say a speech given Friday by school shooting survivor and activist David Hogg was too political for a school setting.
Hogg, who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., last year, spoke to students at Holliston High School Friday morning. The speech entitled, "Engage in the Change: Our Generation Must Own Democracy," was expected to be an apolitical discussion, focusing on youth engagement.
"Thank you all for being here to listen to this important message that in reality is not a partisan issue," Hogg said before the students in a video filmed by Holliston Cable Access Television. "Because what we advocate for – what our generation advocates for – is simply to stop dying. And if we think that’s a partisan issue, we've got a bigger issue in America."
But 16-year-old sophomore Daniel Biundo, who was sitting with his classmates in the auditorium, told Boston 25 News Monday the second half of the speech took a turn.
"It was billed as kind of a speech on civic engagement and trying to get the youth active," Biundo said. "This wasn’t a discussion. This was a one-sided political speech, and that’s where the problem for me lies."
Biundo, who said he admires Hogg and agrees with what he advocates for, said the speech became inappropriate for school. He said Hogg strayed from youth engagement, bashed the National Rifle Association, pushed a political agenda not only involving gun control, but also immigration and made references to a connection between the opioid crisis and white privilege.
"My disagreement stems from the fact that American families don’t send their children to school so that they can listen to the political opinions of any one speaker," Biundo said. "They send them to school so they can be educated and so that they can have a political discussion about a conflict of ideas."
Biundo presented a petition signed by dozens of people to school administrators requesting a conservative speaker come to the school to allow students to hear both sides of the gun debate.
"The best thing the school could’ve done, in my opinion, was, if they wanted to host it during school hours, why not have a debate?" Biundo said. "Why not have David Hogg and an NRA speaker up there?"
Superintendent Brad Jackson told Boston 25 News he did not attend Hogg’s event but was told by administrators and community members about it. He said he also read many students’ and parents’ concerns on Facebook.
"Apparently, toward the end of [Hogg’s] presentation, he kind of veered off into his other focus, which had more of a political tone to it, as has been told to me, despite assurances otherwise," Jackson said by phone Monday. “We were assured that this presentation was going to be apolitical."
Jackson said Hogg has a connection to a Holliston family and a group of students invited him to the school. The speech was free of charge, Jackson said.
Parents also expressed outrage on Facebook about what some said was a lack of sufficient notice about a controversial speech.
An email obtained by Boston 25 News shows the school principal informed parents of the speech at 7:03 p.m., on Thursday. The assembly was at 9:50 a.m., on Friday - nearly 15 hours later.
"If this is a controversial speaker and he's coming to Holliston and he's going to give a speech, there should be a considerable notice," Biundo said.
Jackson, however, said the school, "provided what we consider to be our typical notice, which was several days, as I understand it."
Asked about the students' petition, Jackson, referring to their activism, said, "The good news is that the students who did express their concerns actually practiced what the speaker preached."
Biundo said he is working to bring a big-name speaker to his school to share a more conservative view on ending gun violence.
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