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Wednesday November 30th

Chapel Hill high school students are organizing a walkout to protest gun violence

CHCCS students, parents and teachers meet at YouthWorx on Main office in Carrboro.
Buy Photos CHCCS students, parents and teachers meet at YouthWorx on Main office in Carrboro.

Correction (1:39 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Mary Parry's title. She is a mother of a student at East Chapel Hill High. The article has been updated to reflect these changes. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error. 

Students, parents and teachers from Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools met Sunday to organize a walkout to protest gun violence following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. that killed 17 people.  

Chapel Hill High School junior Caitlin Grubbs and Max Poteat, East Chapel Hill High School sophomore, instructed nearly 40 teenagers at the YouthWorx on Main office in Carrboro. They finalized the distribution of T-shirts, timing and social media accounts for the walkout. 

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Walkout will take place March 14 at 9:55 a.m., the same day as the National School Walkout. It will last 17 minutes, to honor the victims of the recent shooting. Organizers intend for students at every CHCCS high school to participate. 

CHCCS spokesperson Jeff Nash said in an email that a public statement from the superintendent regarding the walkout will be released within the next 48 hours. 

Students plan to meet with administration members at each high school this week to discuss their plans. While students are willing to work with the schools on the walkout, they are not asking for permission, Poteat said.

“We are trying to hold our stance firm when we speak to the administration because they have tried to bypass the walkout,” he said. “We are trying to make sure that this walkout does make a disruption because it is an important issue that needs to be dealt with.”

Organizers plan to provide an orange shirt to each high school student that reads “#enough,” the rallying-cry of the national school walkout. While students organize the details of the march, parents are fundraising for the T-shirts through sponsorships. The back of the T-shirt will list the names of the sponsors.

Carrboro Board of Alderman member Randee Haven-O’Donnell said the board will discuss becoming a sponsor at their meeting later this week. 

Students began planning the walkout soon after the shooting in Parkland. After gathering for the first time on Sunday, Feb. 18, students created flyers to invite teachers to their next meeting. 

Anne Beichner, a history teacher at CHHS, attended the meeting on Feb. 25 to find out how she could further support her students. She said teachers are limited in what they can do to support the walkout because their first priority is keeping their students safe. 

“We have a legal responsibility, and an important one, to stay in the room with kids and to not politicize our classrooms,” Beichner said. “That’s important in many ways, too.”

Beichner currently plans to wear orange on the day of the walkout. 

CHHS junior Kai White said teachers are largely supportive of the walkout. 

“I think they’ve been very supportive, but they’re also been very hesitant to participate,” White said. “I think that they have our backs, and they’ll support us. They’ll wear orange with us, and they won’t personally punish us.”

Parents of the walkout organizers said their kids were inspired by the activist work done by the students at Douglas High School. Mary Parry, mother of a student at East Chapel Hill High School, said the students wanted to do something, but knew many of their classmates would be nervous to go against the rules. 

To combat what Haven-O’Donnell calls “fear of standing alone,” organizers asked their peers to invite one other student to protest with them. Through social media accounts and student government at each high school, news of the walkout spread quickly. White said he expects a large number of students to participate. 

“Leaving here I feel really motivated to go back to our schools and put in more work, especially with administration and other youth organizations to get everyone empowered and on the same page for the movement,” said Victoria Fornville, a sophomore at CHHS. 

Students are not the only ones addressing gun violence in the wake of the Parkland shooting. Penny Rich, vice chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, said schools are re-evaluating their safety practices. 

Currently, Orange County Schools has a school resource officer in every school, while CHCCS has a school resource officer at every middle and high school. Every district holds lockdown drills regularly. 

Orange County has experienced gun scares in the past. In 2006, an East Chapel Hill High School student held another student and a teacher hostage with a gun for multiple hours after school. That same year, a 19-year-old opened fire at Orange High School. No one was harmed at either school. 

“We are not absent of gun violence here in our county,” Rich said. “It’s unfortunately (this) day and age that we have to think what’s going to happen if and when gun violence comes to our campus. It’s just a sorry day in America that this is what we’re living through.”

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Organizers plan to continue pushing for gun legislation reform after the walkout. Poteat said they want to continue their efforts until the summer when the North Carolina General Assembly is in session. 

Public officials and teachers from across the county are praising the work of students in organizing the walkout. 

“If you’re going to ignore them and say they’re just stupid kids, then you’re barking up the wrong tree,” Rich said. “These kids are serious, they’re smart and they know what they’re doing.”

Haven-O’Donnell said she hopes the walkout — both in CHCCS and nationally — will cause people to finally listen to the cries for gun reform. 

“They’re the only ones who can say ‘I was born into this mess,’ and it’s not going to be tolerated anymore,” Haven-O’Donnell said. “Growing up with this is a constant threat. Learning how to do lockdown drills is not the way I want to be at school. What you’re always doing is you’re living in fear, and they want to live with hope.”


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