STANLY COUNTY, N.C. — Students at Stanly County Schools told Channel 9 they were not given permission to participate in the walkout held on Wednesday to protest gun violence in schools after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Students and parents said schools were put on lockdown five minutes before the scheduled national walkout.
“We go to the wall and we sit down and we can't talk,” student Isabelle Medlin, 13, said.
She wanted students to honor the 17 who were killed
“I was angry,” she said. “At first, there was some disbelief.”
Multiple parents, including Amy Medlin, contacted Channel 9 concerned the lockdown violated student rights.
“There is no question in my mind that this was intentional on the part of the Board of Education,” Amy Medlin said.
Superintendent Jeff James said that he would not provide an explanation until Friday.
Channel 9 tried calling all seven of the elected school board members and no one returned its calls.
“I didn't see any problem with the lockdown itself,” former Red Cross Mayor Ray Quick said. “The school has the right to do it.”
Quick believes the superintendent likely made the lockdown decision in name of student safety.
“If the children go outside of the school, how are they going to control the safety of the children?” Quick said.
Parents believe school leaders were trying to silence student voices on gun regulation.
“I think they owe an apology to the students of Stanly,” parent Kevin Taylor said.
On Friday, Superintendent James released the following statement:
"Over the course of the past twenty-four hours our central office has received press inquiries from several media outlets wanting to know if, and how, any Stanly County students may have participated in activities related to the national "Never Again" movement that were held Wednesday across the country. I am proud to share with you how Stanly County Schools handled this sensitive matter.
"Before I share details, let me assure all our parents, students, faculty, and staff, that safety and security is the highest priority for me, my staff, and our School Board. Our commitment is to provide students, teachers, volunteers, and visitors with a safe environment to learn, teach, and observe.
"Now, as many of you are aware, ever since the tragic shooting in Parkland, FL, parents, students, and educators have been openly discussing the issues of school safety, gun safety, mental health, discipline, and related topics. Accordingly, students from various regions around the country began to organize under the name “Never Again”. One of the movements planned activities included a walkout, scheduled for this Wednesday, March 14.
"Last Thursday, March 8, the topic of the Parkland school shooting was the first issue discussed in our monthly Principals Meeting. Our Principals were eager to find a way to allow students, primarily at the secondary level, an avenue for showing their solidarity with other students around the country, without creating any situations where safety may be an issue.
"Consequently, Principals discussed making this week an informal "Week of Remembrance", where teachers would be encouraged to incorporate the issues related to the Parkland shooting into their curriculum and regular lesson plans. As an alternative to the "Never Again" walkout, it was recommended that we use our monthly lock-down drill as a vehicle to allow students to discuss, debate, and share their thoughts. Instead of ten minutes, the normal amount of time allotted for the drill, it was recommended we conduct the drill at 10am and extend the time to a full seventeen minutes, coinciding with the time and duration of the national walkout. For numerous safety and other reasons, and believing this to be the best option, I approved the groups suggestions. Principals were instructed to return to their schools, inform the staff of the plan, and make all necessary preparations.
"Let me be very clear. I felt the decision to use the drill Wednesday was fully appropriate, balancing the concerns of school administration, students, teachers, and concerned parents. I take the matter of school safety very seriously. Again, it is my highest priority. Another priority for me, and the School Board, is the protection and preservation of our student's civil rights. Therefore, I will instruct my staff to aggressively investigate any reports of behavior that is inconsistent with those priorities. I will keep the School Board informed of all such investigations and provide them with the relevant findings and actions, if any, that will be taken as a result.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as Stanly County’s School Superintendent. If you have a comment, or a specific concern or matter you would like me to address personally, please email me at email@example.com."
Dr. Jeff James
Superintendent, Stanly County Schools
Cox Media Group