DAHLONEGA, Ga. – Students all across the nation staged a 17-minute walkout Wednesday organized by Empower, a youth branch of the Women’s March. National organizers say the walkout was staged to “demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence.”
However, in heavily Republican counties like Dawson, Lumpkin and White, the walkouts were more about a respectful memorial to the 17 students and faculty killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school last month and less about making a political statement.
Lumpkin County Schools
Lumpkin County School Superintendent Dr. Rob Brown said about 125 students at Lumpkin County High School and 25 at Lumpkin County Middle School participated.
“It was all about showing respect for the students and faculty involved in the Parkland tragedy,” Brown said.
While some Georgia school systems threatened to punish students who walked out of classes, that was not the case in Lumpkin, White or Dawson counties. “We believe First Amendment rights are just as important in schools as they are in the rest of society,” Brown said.
Students at both schools stood around the American flag in observance of the 17 minutes. “The principal encouraged the kids to work on their social skills by talking to students they don’t know and getting to know them,” Brown said.
White County Schools
Students in White County schools were also welcome to join in the walkout. School Superintendent Dr. Jeff Wilson said 200 White County Middle School students participated along with about 50 at the high school and 15 at the Ninth Grade Academy.
“We respect their right to express themselves as long as it’s respectful and doesn’t disrupt the other students,” Wilson said.
The walkout had a very unique significance at WCMS thanks to a teacher, Melanie Lawhorn, and her students, who developed the “Warriors for Kindness” project. The project, which is posted on the school’s website states, “In order to honor the lives of the 17 individuals lost in Parkland, Florida, White County Middle School students are performing 17 random acts of kindness during the one-month anniversary week.” The acts of kindness are being logged and will be mailed to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a sign of support and love for the community.
Dawson County Schools
School Superintendent Dr. Damon Gibbs said the event in Dawson County was respectful and non-disruptive.
“We allowed our students to gather in remembrance of those killed in Parkland, Florida, as well as to express their desire to see an end to school violence of any kind,” Gibbs stated.
Staff was assigned to hold discussions with students and answer any questions that they had.
“We respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a respectful and non-disruptive way,” Gibbs said. “We are also seeking their opinions about how we can make our schools safer in the future.”
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