Education

What discipline could local students, teachers face in event of a school walkout?

Therese Gachnauer, center, a 18-year old senior from Chiles High School and Kwane Gatlin, right, a 19-year old senior from Lincoln High School, both in Tallahassee, Fla., join fellow students protesting gun violence on the steps of the old Florida Capitol in Tallahassee last week. Students at schools across Broward and Miami-Dade counties in South Florida planned short walkouts Wednesday, the one-week anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Therese Gachnauer, center, a 18-year old senior from Chiles High School and Kwane Gatlin, right, a 19-year old senior from Lincoln High School, both in Tallahassee, Fla., join fellow students protesting gun violence on the steps of the old Florida Capitol in Tallahassee last week. Students at schools across Broward and Miami-Dade counties in South Florida planned short walkouts Wednesday, the one-week anniversary of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. AP

Horry County school officials have yet to decide whether students and educators participating in nationwide school walkout activities will face disciplinary consequences.

Nevertheless, it is a matter those at the district office have on their radar.

“There are several factors to consider when it comes to the safety of those who may want to participate in this national event and maintaining a normal instructional day,” said Horry County Schools spokesperson Lisa Bourcier. “Once a decision is made by the school district regarding this matter, we will communicate that directly to our students, staff and families.”

On March 14, the group Women’s March Youth Empower is calling for students, teachers, school administrators and others to participate in the National School Walkout in protest of gun violence — chiefly those occurring on school campuses. That day at 10 a.m., it is asking for participants to walk out for 17 minutes, a minute for each of those slain in the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

“Students and staff have the right to teach and learn in an environment free from the worry of being gunned down in their classrooms or on their way home from school,” according to the Women’s March Youth Empower via a website promoting the event. “Parents have the right to send their kids to school in the morning and see them home alive at the end of the day.

“We are not safe at school. We are not safe in our cities and towns. Congress must take meaningful action to keep us safe and pass federal gun reform legislation that address the public health crisis of gun violence.”

Another nationwide protest is being scheduled for April 20 — the 19th anniversary of the Columbine (Colo.) High School shooting. Also coined the National School Walkout, dozens of schools across the country have already signed on to participate.

School districts nationwide have floated the idea of suspensions and the loss activities — such as prom — if choosing to participate in any walkout event. According to Horry County school board chairman Joe DeFeo, Horry County Schools is discussing every possible scenario.

“There has been discussion of walkouts,” DeFeo said. “I’ve had discussions with the school board and (Horry County Schools Superintendent Rick Maxey), and this is something that needs to be looked at carefully.”

While in favor of other forms of protest, DeFeo termed the potential of a walkout as “ridiculous,” in part due to the belief it puts all involved in harm’s way.

“I’m all in favor of protests or a moment of silence honoring the victims killed,” he said. “But a walkout of school is the most dangerous and ridiculous thing I’ve heard.

“What is being proposed would make 45,000 of our students sitting ducks. The idea has all the best intentions in mind, but it is completely unsafe.”

In the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting, threats — via social media, verbally and otherwise — have been made at Horry County school campuses. Those have brought severe punishment from school officials and law enforcement, ranging from suspensions to criminal charges.

“It is important for parents to understand that we agree that the safety and security of your children and students is of the highest importance,” said Horry County School Superintendent Rick Maxey in a prepared statement last week. “We will take every threatening comment seriously, and we will investigate diligently to determine the threat level. We will take appropriate disciplinary action to deal with the students who threaten the safe and secure school environment through their reckless comments.

“Additionally, local law enforcement will be involved to conduct investigations into the validity of threats and attempt to identify the sources quickly, which may result in criminal charges.”

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