03/13/18 — Wayne County public school system won't punish students who participate in National School Walk Out

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Wayne County public school system won't punish students who participate in National School Walk Out

By Melinda Harrell
Published in News on March 13, 2018 8:06 PM

The Wayne County public school system will not punish any students who decide to participate in the National School Walk Out event Wednesday.

The national demonstration, which is inspired by the Women's March Youth EMPOWER movement, is a way to remember the people who lost their lives in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and to protest Congress' inaction on curbing gun violence.

On Wednesday at 10 a.m. students across the nation are expected to walk out of their classrooms for 17 minutes -- each minute honoring the life of a person who died in the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting.

"At this time, what we have instructed our school administrators on, in the case that students wish to do that, there will be no punitive ramifications," Ken Derksen, Wayne County Public Schools spokesman, said.

"We seek to engage the students that is not in a punitive way. We recognize, in light of what happened, we realize that students may want to take part in that."

Derksen said because of the political nature of the demonstration that Wayne County Public Schools does not endorse the protest, however.

"We certainly want to make sure that we create a safe and orderly environment," he said.

He said administrators at individual schools are encouraged to allot a safe place where students can participate in the demonstration, but there is no expectation of a large-scale walk out.

"It is intended to last 17 minutes," he said.

"After the 17 minutes, the students need to be back on their way to the classroom in a safe and orderly way."

Mark Colebrook of Operation Unite Goldsboro, who along with Impact Teens, recently held a school safety town hall meeting to discuss the various concerns in the wake of the Florida mass shooting, said the demonstration is great.

"The more that it is in the light, and students see it themselves, I think students will get more comfortable with expressing their thoughts about school safety," Colebrook said.

"Because they are concerned and need answers -- not just from the state but from the local public school system."

Derksen said the school system is sensitive to the effects the mass shooting has had on the youth.

"One of the things we also stress is any student that may experience anxiety about the shooting in Florida -- or violence in schools in general -- we do have counseling available," he said.

"If students need someone to talk to, we do have those services available as well regarding those concerns."

The Parkland, Florida, shooting has sparked a nationwide movement among students and youth, and in Wayne County that movement is making headway.

On March 24 in conjunction with the March For Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C., and in Raleigh, local groups are doing some organizing of their own.

A local activist group, Wayne County Strong, will host a March For Our Lives rally at 2 p.m. on March 24 at the W.A. Foster Park on Leslie Street.

Wayne County Strong organizer Bobby Jones said the local rally will welcome students to air their views on the current environment in which they learn.

"Basically, our concern for our local students who have expressed some fact that there is anxiety," he said.

"They have to face something that me and you have never faced. Sitting in a classroom wondering, 'Is it going to happen?' We want to afford them the opportunity to come be a part of something locally -- everybody."

He said that though the rally will include adult speakers, it will be focused on the voices of the youth.

"We are going to have students as well as a few adults. The major focus will be on the students to articulate their concerns because the goal to this is to make them a little more comfortable with being in the classroom. This is for them, basically, and to let them know as a community that we hear them, and we support them and support them to have a safe educational environment."

Kristiann Herring, Wayne County Strong organizer, said the rally will be an avenue to bring the community together on common ground -- the safety of the children.

"I hope it will bring people together and keep the lines of communication open and show support for people that are directly impacted by this -- physically, emotionally and spiritually," she said.

Herring said she would personally like to see common sense gun laws put in place and encourages local representatives to make rules "according to our needs and our interests."