Students at many schools throughout the Charlotte region plan to observe the 17-minute National School Walkout Day in a variety of ways Wednesday. The event, scheduled for 10 a.m. at many schools, will honor the 17 people gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, last month and focus attention on school safety.
At some schools, students will hold signs or wear orange ribbons; others will have 17 minutes of silence or hold a sunset vigil.
At Independence High School in Mint Hill, NC, students will gather on the football field and place roses on the gridiron as the names of the Florida victims are read. Senior Sebastian Bowen helped organize the event. He said students are united in their belief that schools need to be safer, even though they have varied opinions about guns.
“I hope we can have young people unite together and urge Congress to pass something,” Bowen said. “There’s things that both parties can agree on, for the most part, and yet nothing is being done.”
CMS officials have asked school administrators not to discipline those who participate in the walkout.
At Hough High in Cornelius, Principal Laura Rosenbach says she supports the student walkout. She says Hough students will run a couple of laps around the school's track for the walkout and a few will talk about safety and voter registration.
“I think there’s a sense of student pride that the students are leading and organizing all of this,” Rosenbach said. “It’s the first time our school has really participated in any civic activism as a school. So there’s a lot of pride and excitement right now.”
Rosenbach said since the Florida incident, Cornelius police have talked to her students about how to react if they have an active shooter on campus.
Many principals around the region say they plan to accommodate their students’ rights to walk out. At Myers Park High School in Charlotte, NC, the event is billed as a vigil. Students needed signed parental slips to participate and those with permission will have to wear wristbands.
In the Hickory school district, Superintendent Robbie Adell sent a letter to parents that said he is neither encouraging nor prohibiting walkouts. Stanly County officials have scheduled the district’s monthly emergency drills during the walkout time to avoid disruption and allow students to participate in the walkout.
CMS school board member Ruby Jones said no one is against the intent behind the walkout, but she thinks students could learn more from the tragedy and about school safety through classroom lessons.
“I think that there are better educational ways that are thoughtful, and allow for freedom of speech and assembly, that would be more conducive to student learning,” Jones said. “The walkout is symbolic, but we need to go richer and deeper to educate and help students understand. I don’t see that as what is going to occur [at the walkout].”
Jones said she expects that CMS police and CMPD officers will be more visible during the walkouts to ensure safety. Nationwide, nearly 3,000 walkouts are planned.