Schools won't punish students for safety walkout


From staff reports

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

A number of students at Perquimans County High School plan to leave class and walk to their school’s flagpole on Wednesday as part of a planned nationwide student demonstration against gun violence and in support of school safety.

Elsewhere in the region, school officials said they are unaware of any students planning to take part in the national demonstration called for by the survivors of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that killed 14 students and three school staffers.

If, however, any students do decide to walk out of class on Wednesday in solidarity with the Parkland survivors, they will not be subject to punishment and school officials will ensure their participation in the demonstration goes safely, district officials said.

Ensuring the safety of any student taking part in Wednesday’s demonstration is Perquimans school officials’ chief concern, Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman said. 

“We want to hear their voice and we want that voice to be honored,” Cheeseman said Monday. “If they walk, we want to ensure they are safe.”

The students’ walk to the flagpole at Perquimans High School is slated to begin at 10 a.m. and last for 17 minutes — a tribute to the 17 people killed in the Parkland shooting. 

Superintendent Joe Ferrell of the Camden County Schools said he met with school principals to discuss the possibility of a student walkout on Wednesday. While no Camden students have announced plans to participate in the demonstration, Ferrell said those who do won’t be subject to any discipline “because we support their right to express themselves in this way.”

“We will not assign consequences for students who participate as long as they do so without violating other board policies,” Ferrell said. “Camden County Schools is not encouraging it and we are not discouraging it. We just want to be sure students are supported and safe if they choose to participate.”

Ferrell said schools will provide a space for students to participate in the demonstration as well as supervision.

Mark Stefanik, superintendent of Currituck County Schools, said his district’s position on a potential student demonstration on Wednesday is similar to Ferrell’s.

“We are going to focus on student safety and support,” Stefanik said. “Currituck County Schools is not encouraging or discouraging participation in the walkout.”

Tammy Sawyer, spokeswoman for the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, said ECPPS also isn’t encouraging participation but plans to be supportive of students who elect to join the demonstration. Right now, the district knows of any students who plan to participate, she said.

“We are prepared to offer a safe, orderly and respectful tribute should we have students choose to participate,” Sawyer said. "We, like Currituck, are not encouraging or discouraging student participation. We do not plan to assign any disciplinary consequences as long as all other board policies and Code of Conduct requirements are adhered to.” 

Edenton-Chowan Schools Superintendent Rob Jackson also said his district plans to"keep our students safe should they participate in an event like this.”

Daily Advance Staff Writer Reggie Ponder, Perquimans Weekly Editor Peter Williams and Chowan Herald Editor Miles Layton contributed to this report.