Parents, schools react to planned student walkouts to protest gun violence

- On Wednesday, students across the country are expected to walk out of school and protest gun violence.

Kim Nance, the mother of a middle school student at Northwest Cabarrus Middle, says if her daughter wants to walk out of school, she supports it.

“I’m for people standing up for their rights,” Nance said.

Security is weighing heavily on the minds of parents at Northwest Cabarrus Middle. On Friday, a 13-year-old student pulled a knife and threatened her teacher, according to the Cabarrus County Sheriff. The sheriff says the young girl also had a gun and ammunition in her book bag at school.

The student faces felony charges and her parents, Carla and William Pressley, were charged with failure to secure or store a firearm to protect a minor.

FOX 46 Charlotte stopped by the Pressleys’ home Monday, where deputies say they seized three shotguns and three handguns on Friday. The man who answered the door said, “No comment.”

Amy Evans, another parent at Northwest Middle, is alarmed over what happened Friday.

She says she’s unsure about giving her 12-year-old son a choice to walk-out.

“I still feel he’s kind of young to be making that decision on his own, so we’ll have to discuss that a little further with him and make that decision as a family.”

Cabarrus County Schools released a statement on the planned walkouts, saying:

"Cabarrus County Schools seeks to provide a safe, inviting and motivating learning environment for all students. Our district respects students’ rights to protest and encourages them to do so in constructive ways that promote peaceful dialogue. We also have a responsibility to ensure student safety and minimize disruptions during the school day.  Logistically, having large groups of students exit buildings could result in injuries. We have worked with principals to provide students with alternative opportunities to support the spirit of the walkouts, but also to keep them safe. These opportunities may include student-led assemblies that focus on inclusion and acceptance, moments of silence, and wearing bracelets, ribbons, etc. to signify solidarity." 

FOX 46 Charlotte also obtained the email Tracy Russ, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Chief Communications Officer, sent to CMS principals shortly after the school massacre in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14. It says, in full: 

CMS Principals,

The tragedy in Broward County last week and other losses of life on school campuses across the nation over several years have driven increased interest in student-led civic engagement efforts and actions, including the idea of school walk-outs. CMS supports students’ Constitutional rights to peaceful assembly and free expression. Our goal in responding to walk-out plans and other forms of peaceful assembly is to try and keep focus on teaching and learning while providing guidance and planning to support student and staff safety.

CMS expects students who are working with you at each campus to make credible plans for peaceful expression and that they not be subject to suspension or other disciplinary action for absence as a result of their respectful participation in these planned events. However, violence, intentional disruption or disturbance, harassment of other students or staff, destruction of property or other conduct in violation of the Student Code of Conduct should not be tolerated.

Based on social media messaging, it appears that there are at least three major student-led efforts underway:

  1. March 14: @WomensMarch Action – call for school walkout for 10 minutes
  2. March 24: March for Our Lives for all to participate in Washington, DC (@AMarch4OurLives)
  3. April 20: National School Walkout for students across nation in local districts (@schoolwalkoutUS)

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to CMS Communications for support/response.

If/when you learn about student-led efforts, here are some tips for support:

  • Meet with student leaders to assess needs and any plans.
  • Remind students that counseling and guidance support are available to any student and that CMS encourages students to reach out
  • Remind students that CMS supports their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression, but that school is about teaching and learning as priority, and that the CMS Student Code of Conduct remains in place and will be enforced.
  • With student input, provide space on campus for students to assemble peacefully, but and also ask students not to move off of campus for their own safety and security.
  • Help ensure that any efforts to invite participation are open and that the events be inclusive of ALL students.
  • Ask students to be respectful of students on campus who may not wish to participate, and/or students who may hold opposing views to those being shared during the event.
  • Tell students that there may be increased staff, CMSPD and/or CMPD presence and that this presence is for student and staff protection and safety, not to quell their expression.
  • Assess if there are teachable moments that could be relevant to class instruction or lessons.
  • Invite student ideas for improving campus safety, security and culture.
  • Stay in touch with Learning Community Superintendent, CMS Communications and CMSPD on any plans that may emerge.
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