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Schools across county plan for demonstrations honoring Parkland victims


By Brian Wudkwych
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Some school officials in Pitt County are planning to embrace demonstrations honoring the victims in the Parkland, Fla. school shooting that occurred one month ago today.

Others say they simply have not heard much from students and do not anticipate any activity. 

Public schools were tasked by Pitt County Schools Superintendent Ethan Lenker to decide how to or whether to participate in the large-scale, coordinated National School Walkout Day, organized by the Women’s March. The national event calls for a 17-minute walkout at 10 a.m., one minute for the 14 students and three educators killed in the Feb. 14 shooting. 

Of the seven high schools operated by Pitt County Schools, only North Pitt and Farmville Central have said they do not expect to participate in demonstrations on any level. Farmville Central Principal Brad Johnston cited safety concerns about an organized walkout. He said he would not feel comfortable allowing a mass gathering outside.

The other five, however, have coordinated with the student body to allow various demonstrations, some of which will resemble a school walkout.

Students will not be required to participate in the events, however. 

At the Early College High School, participating students will be allowed to go outside to a secure area at 10 a.m., where they will read about each of the victims in the Parkland shooting before releasing 17 balloons, honoring those killed. 

High schools D.H. Conley and South Central also will allow students to exit the building for their respective demonstrations. At Conley, the Student Government Association president will meet with students outside to observe a moment of silence, according to Travis Lewis, public information officer for the district.

The national walkout has billed itself as being political in nature, calling for stricter gun laws. However, South Central is framing its walkout as a stand against school violence. Students and staff will take part in a moment of silence at 10 a.m. before exiting the school for five or six minutes. Parents were notified through a robo-call and a school-wide announcement was made to inform students of the opportunity. 

A student group at South Central also is planning on making donations to March for Our Lives and will encourage fellow students to donate as well. 

J.H. Rose is hoping to keep its students’ demonstrations indoors, Lewis said.

He said there will dedicated spaces within the building for the students to observe a moment of silence about 10 a.m. Administrators will encourage students to stay in the advisory block and write letters to the families of the victims or to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They also will be welcome to provide feedback to administration detailing safety concerns. 

A teacher at Ayden-Grifton decided to invite students to take part in a “walk-in,” wherein they are encouraged to wear green to symbolize growth, hope and safety. Additionally, students will be encouraged to reach out to at least 14 students and three teachers to honor the 17 killed in the shooting. The goal, according to flyer posted by the school, is to bring hope to those who may feel alone, lost, sad and in need of support. 

In addition to allowing schools to supervise their own demonstrations, Lenker also said it is recommended that schools work within the student code of conduct should any students walk out on their own accord. 

Cutting or skipping class is classified as a Level 1 offense under the policy, and includes in-school interventions ranging from a verbal or written warning to in-school suspension, though specifics can sometimes vary from school to school.

Public schools are not the only ones expected to take part in the demonstrations.

At The Oakwood School a group of about 30 students plan to walk out at 10 a.m. They will hold the pictures of the 17 slain victims and will take turns reading their names. After that, students will discuss what safety concerns they have and what they can do to better their learning environment. 

Oakwood faculty is aware and supportive of the demonstration, according to officials.

Contact Brian Wudkwych at bwudkwych@reflector.com or 252-329-9567 and follow @brianwudkwych on Twitter.