Somebody say there was a walkout?

Published 6:32 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018

short rows header

Hats off to the Isle of Wight County high school students who, we are told, supported the nationwide school walkout last Wednesday in protest to gun violence in schools.

I say “we are told” because despite our best efforts, county school officials denied us access to the protest. Staff writer Elizabeth Pattman was told in advance of the walkout that she wouldn’t be allowed on school property.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

This walkout was newsworthy. Whether you agree with the general premise that gun violence is a serious problem or not, you have to admire the nation’s students for what they are doing. They are using their First Amendment right of free speech and are, at an early age, accepting the responsibility of citizenship — of carrying on a conversation about policy matters that they believe need attention.

And as news stories here and from other communities and other states have noted, not all students agree with each other on gun violence, solutions to it or the walkout. There are students, just like adults, who believe that more guns make a better society and there are those who believe that we would be better off with fewer guns.

We frankly don’t know how the walkout went here or what was said because of being banned from covering it.

Worse than being banned from school property, though, was the reason we were given. We were told that it would be difficult to check the media releases of students who may appear in photographs, despite offers to work with school officials to make that easier. The theory is that a student with a custody problem may have his or her location spotted by the opposing parent and that could cause problems, according to school officials.

No law requires that. We’ve checked — many times.

And local school officials don’t believe it either. Here’s the proof. When Smithfield Foods donated several million dollars to the school system to launch Dr. Jim Thornton’s CTE capital projects, Dr. Thornton staged a rally at Smithfield High School. Students turned out — in fact were expected to — to an event during school hours in the gymnasium.

Reporters were invited — and also expected to attend — to photograph officials, students, teachers and anybody else who was assembled. No media releases were mentioned and a crowd photograph of students was posted on the newspaper’s website, as well as the front page. There were no complaints about our coverage.

But, of course, that was a “positive” event and a protest by students might be considered by some to be negative.

Or, it might also be considered quite positive, maybe one of the most positive things these students will do this year. Such events should be celebrated, not suppressed.

This newspaper has been very supportive of Dr. Thornton’s initiatives, and we remain so. He has energized students and community leaders to work on the CTE initiative.

But last week was not his finest hour. In the future, when students want to exercise their citizenship in a public way, we hope school officials will be as welcoming to the discussion of social issues as the young people they are mentoring.

Sunday drive

In case you missed it, Main Street was open from one end to the other late Saturday and all day Sunday.

Just thought I’d mention it because it was the first time you could drive down the street since early January without encountering a barricade.

The respite was short-lived, of course. On Monday, the 100 block was closed to traffic so that the seemingly interminable gas line replacement project can continue for a few more days/weeks.

Main Street businesses have struggled against huge odds to since Christmas to remain open and available to customers. About two thirds of the street is now open and someday in the not too distant future, the rest will be. In fact, one of these days, it will even be repaved.

In the meantime, pick a business and drop by to say “hi.” The owners will be delighted to see you.