LUMBERTON — The Public Schools of Robeson County is taking preparatory steps in case local high school students elect to participate in the National School Walk-out on Wednesday.
Superintendent Shanita Wooten issued guidance and objectives, and encouraged proactive steps by school leadership. Wooten also wants to ensure that any walkout is educational and safe for all participants.
“The Public Schools of Robeson County 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,” Wooten said in a written policy statement.
The National School Walk-out is intended as a memorial for the 17 people killed in a Parkland, Florida, high school and as a platform to seek gun control legislation. The event will take place one month to the day that Nikolaus Cruz came to the campus of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School with an AR-15 rifle and opened fire on students and faculty members.
After the shooting, a student movement formed to pressure state and federal lawmakers to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks and to take guns from people who present a threat.
Wednesday’s walkout is planned for noon and is to last 17 minutes.
There are no plans for an event at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke at this time, according to Jodi Phelps, director of University Communications and Marketing.
Public school administrators across the nation are scrambling to create responses. The responses vary from planning schoolwide assemblies to disciplinary action for students who walk out. Horry County schools in South Carolina are forbidding students from walking out, saying that allowing that is a security issue.
In the event of a walkout, Wooten is working to provide space for protest and to promote an orderly, safe, inclusive and educational event. Unsafe or disruptive behavior will be dealt with as disciplinary issues, she said.
The superintendent has instructed principals to meet with school leaders to anticipate planned events on Wednesday. Wooten advocates communicating with students about their rights and the responsibilities that come with them.
“Remind students that the Public Schools of Robeson County support their rights to peaceful assembly and free expression, but that school is about teaching and learning as priority, and that the Public Schools of Robeson County student behavior policies and school code of conducts remain in place and will be enforced,” she said.
Additional security may be in place during a walkout, and students will not be allowed to leave campus, Wooten said. The superintendent also encouraged the event to be inclusive and respectful of students who may hold opposing views.
Wooten encourages a teaching and learning moment for issues relevant to school curriculum. She forwarded materials from the National School Board Association on the First Amendment and dealing with protests at school.
Wooten also is encouraging student input on campus safety and open communications with the superintendent’s office.
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]