A South Carolina school’s controversial decision not to allow students to advocate for gun control during the National Student Walkout planned for March 14 has resulted in the school canceling any walkout altogether.
Instead, students at Greenville’s Powdersville High School are being told the walkout will be replaced by a “discussion within their classrooms with their teachers and classmates about school safety.”
“In these classroom discussions, every student will be given an opportunity to express his or her thoughts about school safety,” said a statement issued by Principal Chris Ferguson. “We recognize the right of students to free speech. We are committed to striking a proper balance between student expression and the school’s responsibility to ensure safety and order.”
The decision to keep students in class comes a day after the school was criticized for a Facebook post that warned students gun control was not to be discussed during any March 14 protest on campus.
“Any students involved in the event have been asked to focus on school safety, including increased mental health counselors and increased funding and training for SRO officers, not gun control,” said the original Facebook post.
In an update published Wednesday, Ferguson said school officials believe students “are being told by outside groups what we should do and how we should react.” That’s why the school came up with hits own plan for the day, he said.
The National Student Walkout takes place one month after 17 people died during a mass shooting Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day. The surviving students have taken the lead in an ongoing protest that has won national attention.
Organizers of the National Student Walkout, including the Women’s March and Women’s March Youth, are calling for students, teachers and administrators to walk out of schools for 17 minutes on March 14, starting at 10 a.m. That’s one minute for each person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
Part of the event at each school is to include a reading of the names of the 17 people killed in Parkland.
At Powdersville High, the reading of the names will follow the classroom discussion. “Student leaders will use the intercom to read out the 17 names of the victims from Parkland, Florida followed by a time of silent reflection in remembrance of all victims of school violence,” said school officials on Facebook. “Following this vigil, teachers will finish up discussions, summarize concerns and ideas, and return to classroom instruction as usual.”
One teacher at Powdersville High told the Observer that it was a misinterpretation of the Facebook post to say the school was originally against allowing students to discuss gun control. However, that misinterpretation was widespread based on social media reaction.
“The purpose of the nationwide walkout clearly states that this is to demand that Congress pass legislation (gun control) to help keep schools safe,” posted Julie Jones-Kelly on the school’s Facebook page. “I support the walkout, but to say this is not about gun control is 100 percent incorrect. You can ask the students to use this walkout to remember all those innocent people that have been victims, but don't even try to say that this is not about gun control.”
“My son has my full support should he choose to peacefully demonstrate in favor of school safety, gun control, or any other issue that he deems worthy,” said parent Andrea Pastorelli Smith. “I raised him well and I trust his judgment. At age 15, he has a right to his own views.”
“These kids are the ones in school having to deal with this issue, not us,” posted Jo Stephens on Facebook, “and I feel that they have every right to make their opinions known in a peaceful manner.”
“We need action,” says the Women’s March on its Facebook page. “Students and allies are organizing the National School Walkout to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship. Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms.”
The walkout is not without controversy. Some schools are not recognizing the walkout and plan to discipline students who participate, reports USAToday.
The ACLU has warned students their actions could have consequences during the walkout.
“Here’s the gist,” said a tweet from the American Civil Liberties Union: “Your school can punish you for missing class, just like they always can, but it can’t punish you more harshly for protesting than if you were missing class for another reason.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg principals are being told to prepare for students to take part in the walkout. A note issued weeks ago by Chief Communications Officer Tracy Russ urged principals to talk with student leaders, know the plans and keep students on campus.
“CMS supports students’ constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free expression,” Russ wrote. “Our goal in responding to walk-out plans and other forms of peaceful assembly is to try and keep focus on teaching and learning while providing guidance and planning to support student and staff safety.”