Education

Why some Triangle students will walk out of class Wednesday

2,000 Green Hope High students walk out of class to demand tougher gun laws

More than 2,000 students walked out of Green Hope High School on February 28, 2018 to demand political changes to try to end school gun violence following the recent Florida school shooting massacre. More walk outs were scheduled for March 14.
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More than 2,000 students walked out of Green Hope High School on February 28, 2018 to demand political changes to try to end school gun violence following the recent Florida school shooting massacre. More walk outs were scheduled for March 14.

Students at schools across the Triangle are planning to take part in a National School Walkout on Wednesday morning to call for an end to school gun violence.

The Women's March Youth EMPOWER is encouraging students across the country to walk out Wednesday at 10 a.m. for 17 minutes — one minute for each of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14. Students at public and private Triangle schools, ranging from elementary through high school, have registered to take part in the protest.

"We urge Apex High School students to walkout on March 14th to show our government that we will not continue to accept the threat of violence in our schools.," tweeted Why Apex Walks, the group organizing the Apex High School walkout. "We will not run from this. We will walk out in solidarity to ensure our futures."

Wednesday's walkouts come on the heels of other events held around the country in the month since the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting. On Feb. 28, more than 2,000 students at Green Hope High School in Cary walked out of class to demand political changes such as tougher gun laws.

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Green Hope High seniors Kayla Blades, left, and Seena Arafat hold signs as more than 2,000 students walked out of Green Hope High School in Cary on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018 to demand political changes to try to end school gun violence following the recent Florida school shooting massacre. Travis Long tlong@newsobserver.com

The planned walkouts have generated controversy with some districts nationally threatening to suspend students who participate in school protests. Leaders of the Needville Independent School District near Houston, Texas, made national headlines for threatening to suspend students for three days if they engaged in any student demonstrations during school hours.

Concerns about suspensions have caused the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina to issue an open letter Monday to school officials asking them to respect students' rights by not punishing them for participating in demonstrations.

"We encourage you as educators to guide your students toward healthy civic engagement and to teach them the value and history of peaceful protest in creating change in our great nation," Chris Brook and Sneha Shah of the ACLU of North Carolina write in the open letter. "Just 58 years ago, North Carolina high school students participated in sit-ins in Greensboro and sparked our nation to act against segregation.

"Those sit-ins showed us the power of student voices. Today, once again, students can use their voices to make a difference."

Colleges and universities around the country, including Duke, N.C. State, UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University, have said high school students can join peaceful protests without having to worry about it affecting their admissions chances.

With so many students expected to take part in the walkouts, Wake school officials are telling students they won’t be punished for the protests if they work ahead of time with their principals to make sure the events are safe. Principals have been working with students to set up safe places for the walkouts with staff expected to be monitoring them during the event.

Greear Webb, 17, a junior at Sanderson High School in Raleigh, said the school's administration has been supportive of the walkout. Webb said he helped organize Wednesday's march at Sanderson because he's tired of shootings happening at schools.

"These various walkouts across the country are in hopes that attention will be drawn to the fact that students are increasingly unsafe in schools and are now demanding action," Webb said.

But Bob Luebke, a senior policy analyst with the conservative Civitas Institute, questions Wake's assertion that it's not taking a position on gun control by working with the students who are organizing the walkouts. He notes that the Women's March, which has sponsored anti-Trump marches, is part of a group that promotes "progressive causes."

"Last week 70 percent of the student body of Green Hope High School walked out of the school to demand change," Lubeke wrote in a post last week. "Evidently that doesn’t qualify as a disruption. Maybe we should ask the students who didn’t participate."

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui
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