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Saturday June 25th

'Supposed to be disruptive': Carrboro High School students hold walkout for abortion rights

<p>Hundreds of students at Carrboro High School participated in a walkout on May 18, 2022 to show their support for abortion rights.</p>
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Hundreds of students at Carrboro High School participated in a walkout on May 18, 2022 to show their support for abortion rights.

An estimated 700 students at Carrboro High School participated in a walkout as part of an abortion rights protest last week. 

The event was one of many protests that took place in Chapel Hill and across the country in response to the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion obtained and published by Politico. If finalized, the opinion would overturn Roe v. Wade – and the constitutional right to abortion. 

Students who participated in the walkout said they expected the protest to be small, but most of the school’s student body gathered outside where they began chanting and holding up signs.

Once gathered outside, between 250 to 300 of the students walked off the school's campus, beginning an impromptu march to UNC's campus and the Old Well. 

According to Chief Communications Officer for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Andy Jenks, the walkout was joined by approximately 30 students from Culbreth Middle School, most of whom were 8th graders.

Carrboro High School senior Gabriela Mora and sophomore Caroline Jones participated in the march to the Old Well.

Jones said by the time the students reached the well, the gathering had thinned out to 80 students, which continued to decrease throughout the afternoon as they returned to class.

“Once all the people who were joking around left, it was actually a good environment where we can tell our stories and have our opinions out there,” Mora said. “We were all comfortable with each other.”

Students shared personal essays and stories about sexual assault, harassment and abortion access. They also shared their fears for a possible future without access to abortion, which Mora and Jones said will disproportionally affect minority groups and those in poverty. 

“It was less protest at that moment and it was more getting together as a community to talk about the issue of abortion and reproductive rights in health care,” Jones said.

She said her group of friends were among the last to leave the Old Well, arriving back at school at 3:00 p.m. during the last period.

Jenks said that Chapel Hill and Carrboro police were alerted to ensure student safety.

“We were very supportive and proud of the way that students want to voice their opinions and to raise awareness of issues that are important to them,” Jenks said. “But as a school system, we also have to keep a variety of things in mind, including the safety of our students and staff.”

He said that other schools in the area, including Smith Middle School, have recently had protests that remained on campus.

While some parents expressed excitement about their children’s participation in the walkout on social media, others believed that the walkout should not have been allowed. 

Tiffany Endres, whose twin sons are in 8th grade at Culbreth Middle School, identifies as pro-choice but was glad her children did not participate. 

“We're allowing children to get up and disrupt an entire school day for a personal belief, which I believe everyone has the right to talk, protest, speech, whatever they want, but it has to be the right time in place,” she said.

Endres said that these conversations should be reserved for parents to have with their kids rather than taking place at school.

Pro-Choice North Carolina Executive Director Tara Romano said that protests and walkouts, even those led by students, are effective.

“When they visibly stand up and say they support abortion access, that helps to chip away the abortion stigma, which is really what contributes to all these restrictions being put in place,” Romano said.

Jones said that many of the students that participated were too young to vote and see protesting as one of their only ways to participate in the conversation. 

She added that young people can participate by encouraging others to vote and engaging in dialogue to change opinions.

“I think voting is still something that young people can get involved with, even if they cannot vote,” Jones said.

Mora said the students at the walkout discussed the impact voting has on issues like reproductive rights. She added that she wished she had registered for the May 17 primary election.

A May 18 email from Carrboro High School Principal Beverly Rudolph informed parents about the walkout. Rudolph’s email said that while the school administration supports student expression, they would prefer to protect instructional time in the future.

Jones saw the principal’s email as pushback to their walkout, as the email said that future student demonstrations should be planned outside of class time.

“A walkout is supposed to be disruptive,” she said.


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