Walk-Out or Not Walk-Out

What are Upstate Schools Doing?

Seth Stokes
March 09, 2018 - 1:29 pm
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The group Women’s March and the Youth EMPOWER segment of the organization, has put together an anti-gun rally on Wednesday, March 14th. They are encouraging students to walk out of class and out of the school building in a show of support for stricter gun laws.

In listening to talk radio and looking at various social media platforms, this has caused quite a stir among parents.

When you do an area search on their website, several schools in the Upstate are “signed up” to be a part of this rally. This has led to widespread speculation about the level of involvement the actual schools have in this. Are the districts and school administration allowing a walk-out and helping to organize it, or it is simply some students who want their voices heard signing their schools up for the event?

The school in Greenville County that is signed up is Hillcrest High School. I reached out to the principal at Hillcrest, Dr. G. Brian Skipper, to see if he would speak with me about this issue. He declined an interview but did confirm that Hillcrest does not have a walk-out scheduled nor did the school itself have anything to do with signing up on the Women’s March website.

I spoke with Greenville County Schools’ Communications Director, Beth Brotherton, about what the district has communicated to their schools about this day.

A follow up email was sent to Dr. Skipper to find out what exactly they will be doing on that day that is within the rules set forth by the district.

“We have a student group that is creating a video to honor the 17 victims that we will show that day.  They may also do cards and/or banners to send to Stoneman Douglas as well.”

There is one Upstate school, however, that has found itself right in the middle of the controversy. Powdersville High School in Anderson District One is also on the website and had instructions for the walk-out for students, which included not participating if you are not anti-gun. That post has since been taken down.

In response to that, Powdersville High’s principal, Dr. Chris Ferguson, released a statement on the school’s website:

“There was some erroneous information that was shared on the radio this morning regarding PVHS that we want to correct. As schools across the state prepare for the possibility of students participating in the March 14th walk out event, schools in Anderson One, including Powdersville HIgh School, are making every attempt to ensure that any event where students are outside will be controlled and SAFE. The information placed on The Action Network website was done so by a student, including “registering” the school for this event. The school administration had NOTHING to do with this. Our efforts have been to talk with student council and student groups to encourage students to make this event about HONORING THE VICTIMS from Parkland, Florida, as well as the victims of school violence in the past and focusing on school safety. This event will not be a GUN CONTROL protest organized by the school. In fact, 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.

Additionally, students who do NOT wish to participate in this event will remain in class; however, there is a leadership group among these students who would like to do a vigil by reading the names of the 17 victims from Parkland, Florida.

At NO TIME has Dr. Ferguson or Powdersville High School attempted to encourage or facilitate a gun control protest. We are preparing to make sure that any student-led event that takes place on March 14 (or any other date) is controlled and SAFE.”

Like other schools, he claims the walk-out will only be in honor of the victims of the shooting in Florida and have nothing to do with gun control. He also declined an interview, saying I needed to speak with the district.

Wren High School in the same district posted a similar statement on the school’s Facebook page.

Upon reaching out to Anderson District One on Tuesday, I was told that no-one from the district would be doing any interviews and that they would be sending out a press-release on the subject “either Thursday or Friday” As of 1 p.m. on Friday, no such release has been emailed to me.

Dr. Ferguson has since updated his statement on the school’s website:

“Parents,

I wanted to give you an update and do my best to clarify the multitude of information circulating about Wednesday, March 14th, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland tragedy. First, every school across the state has had to formulate a plan with how to handle a possible walk-out. As you read from our statement yesterday, our initial concern was to control any event and to make it safe. What we didn’t know at that point was the extent to which any of our students would want to participate. As many of you are aware, our school was registered on the Action Network/Women’s March website by a student. The information provided by the student is what was reported by the media.

Although there are no easy solutions to this situation, it has occurred to me that our school and our students are being told by outside groups what we should do and how we should react instead of spending some important time developing a plan that works for our school and our students. That is not what we have done in the past at Powdersville. We have typically expected our students and our school to set the example for other schools across the state.

Our students agree and together we have developed a plan to make March 14 a positive and productive day at PVHS. Instead of a 17-minute walk out, students will participate in 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.

In addition to listening to students, our teachers will be writing down some of the concerns and ideas expressed by students, and those ideas will be compiled in a letter that we will share with our local and state leaders. “What Our Students Want Leaders to Know about School Safety” will be the topic of the letter. Our students and faculty will help us create something tangible that we can share with leaders and be proud of as a result of this conversation.

Following 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.

Following this vigil, teachers will finish up discussions, summarize concerns and ideas, and return to classroom instruction as usual.

This plan provides tangible results and it gives PVHS a chance to listen to EVERY student. I join our student leaders in being excited about the plan we have developed, and which will allow us to address this issue in a productive and positive manner.

PVHS recognizes that students benefit from being able to participate in democracy. 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.”

Quite a change from the initial statement.

The origination of any event was brought on by Women’s March Youth EMPOWER, which is meant to be a show of solidarity by students across the country in favor of sctricter gun laws. That is the catalyst for schools having to come up with plans for March 14th.

Regardless of what schools are saying they are having an event for on that day, it was still brought on by an anti-gun group. So it begs the question, should schools even acknowledge this? Should they allow students some sort of voice during the school day? If so, would they allow events to take place on days other groups, like the NRA, or Planned Parenthood, etc., designate?

I am not sure there is a cut and dry answer to this question. We could be seeing an evolution of how the education community handles social and political issues with the students who, thanks to social media, are way more informed than previous generations. Now, not all of that information is correct, but they are aware of what is going on in the world and they want a voice. It will be an interesting day to watch.

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