By Bruce Henderson, The Charlotte Observer
Parents say officials of two local schools prevented students from joining thousands of others Wednesday in nationwide walkouts to protest gun violence.
At Charlotte Catholic High School, one parent reported, students were threatened with suspension if they walked out and staff members patrolled classrooms and hallways. A diocese spokesman said student leaders had instead chosen to pray rather than walk out, but acknowledged that the school’s principal had told students they could be disciplined if they left their classes.
Stanly County, east of Charlotte, locked down schools countywide at the precise team of the national walkouts, a parent there said. School system officials have not responded to requests for comment.
“The parents were not informed at all, and we’re usually informed of any lockdown drills,” said Amy Medlin, who has a daughter at West Stanly High School and two children at other county schools.
At West Stanly, Medlin said her daughter and parents of other students told her, the school went into a high-level lockdown, in which students are told to hide from a potential intruder, from 10 a.m. until 10:17 – the 17-minute duration of nationwide walkouts corresponding to the number of students and staff killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Some teachers told students they could be arrested if they walked out, Medlin said, while others said leaving class would disrupt the school day.
“I feel that my children and all children should have a voice and right now, children are standing up and they’re being ignored,” Medlin said. “It’s not good for them to learn that their voices don’t matter. This could have been a good civics lesson.”
At Charlotte Catholic, Diocese of Charlotte spokesman David Hains said, student leaders met with principal Kurt Telford in advance of the planned walkouts and instead decided to offer prayers for the victims of the Florida shootings. A profile of one of those victims was read over the school’s public address system Wednesday morning, he said, and each class prayed for the Florida victims.
“As a school were students can pray, we feel that that was the best response,” Hains said.
A group of students who wanted a walkout met with Telford and were told that student leaders had chosen to instead pray, Hains said. Students were told they faced disciplinary action, including detention or suspension from school, if they left their classes. Two of the school’s approximately 1,100 students did so, Hains said.
Schools in Mecklenburg, Union and Gaston counties all had walkouts, vigils and in-school civic engagement Wednesday, as did many private and charter schools. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox had said CMS students would face consequences only if they left campus, created disturbances or put themselves in danger.
“While we are not encouraging young people to walk out, we are understanding if they do,” Wilcox told the school board on Tuesday night.