Students join walkout

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hundreds reportedly walked out in protest

By Elizabeth Pattman

Staff writer

Last week, hundreds of Isle of Wight County school students got up out of their seats and walked out. 

Smithfield High School sophomore Melanie Ivens was one of them. She joined her classmates in what had become a nationwide event to mark the one-month anniversary of a school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people. 

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The students left class for 17 minutes, beginning at 10 a.m. on March 14 — one minute for each person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. On Valentine’s Day, 17 people were killed by a former student who arrived on campus armed with a semi-automatic rifle. 

“I hope that by walking out maybe we’ll see some change. Everybody is speaking up,” said Ivens. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Students from Smithfield and Windsor high schools, Smithfield and Georgie Tyler middle schools and Westside Elementary were reported to have participated in National Walkout Day, according to school spokesperson Lynn Briggs.

Ivens’ mother, Viki, said her daughter is very politically aware and her participation was something they had discussed prior to the event. 

Ivens said the walkouts at Smithfield High School came together rather last minute. The walkouts had been discussed, but no solid plans had been made, she said. The night before the walkouts, Ivens and her friends used spare poster board left over from school projects to make signs that they carried during the walk-out.

“People who I didn’t really talk to much, we all rallied around this pretty quickly. I was surprised about that,” she said. 

Ivens said she was the only one who walked out of her class, but many students from the school joined her.

“The majority walked out because they cared,” said Ivens. “I know there were some people who walked out just because they were getting out of class. I know some of the freshmen were like ‘Oh, other people are walking out so I should too’. But, a lot of people I talked to knew why we were doing it and they knew why it was important.”

In addition to the hundreds of Smithfield High School and Smithfield Middle School students, 140 Windsor High School students, between 90 and 100 Georgie Tyler Middle School students and 35 sixth graders from Westside Elementary participated in the walk-outs, according to Briggs.

At Windsor High School, two students carried posters listing the names of the victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School, according to Briggs. These students walked past the rest of their peers who were assembled on the sidewalk so that all of the students could see their names, she said. Senior Tisha Copeland, president of the social justice club at the school, also spoke to the assembled students about the importance of remembering the victims, according to Briggs.

There were no signs or speakers at Georgie Tyler Middle School or Westside Elementary School, according to Briggs.

Ivens noted that talk about school shootings and gun laws are not new at school. She stated that an open mic night was recently hosted at the school, during which a fellow student shared a poem that listed mass shootings and how many people have died. Similar poems were shared at a poetry slam event shortly after the Las Vegas shooting, according to Ivens.

Parents were notified by the school division about the pending walkout.

In a March 10 letter to parents, which can be viewed online, the district stated that it would maintain a neutral position and staff would neither encourage nor discourage student participation in the walkouts. Parents were encouraged to speak to their students about the importance of instructional time and to urge their children to stay in class, according to the letter. 

The letter stated that students who walked out were not to be punished, unless they violated the IWCS Student Code of Conduct, left campus, were found in an unauthorized area or were disruptive. The students were allowed to re-enter their classrooms following the walkout, it said. No disciplinary incidents occurred during the walkouts, said Briggs.

Smithfield High and Middle School students were allowed to gather on the football field, while Windsor High School students met in a designated area behind the school. The letter said these areas were set up in order to ensure student safety.

All of the walkouts were peaceful and there were no reports of trouble from students who walked out or stayed in class, according to Briggs.

The press was barred from photographing the event or interviewing students at the schools. School officials said the ban was due to the number of students participating and the need to check photos against media releases. 

Principals of all the schools reported hearing positive feedback regarding how peaceful the event was, said Briggs. She also stated that students were respectful of their classmates, whether they did or did not participate. 

Some parents have indicated otherwise, as some students decided against talking to the press due to conflicts that have arisen concerning the walkout. 

Ivens said that she had not personally witnessed any disagreements between students, but thought they were likely.  {/mprestriction}