Marietta Daily Journal
by Shaddi Abusaid, Mar 12, 2018
Thousands of students from across the county are planning to walk out of class Wednesday on the one month anniversary of the mass shooting that left 17 people dead at a Parkland, Florida high school.
While Marietta City Schools will permit its students to leave class, the Cobb County School District says anyone who walks out will be subject to disciplinary repercussions laid out in the student code of conduct.
But 17-year-old Hannah Andress, who is organizing the walkout at Lassiter High to commemorate those killed and call for stricter gun laws, said her class will be on the right side of history. She said her classmates believe the planned protest is far too important to let a few hours of detention silence their voices.
Andress, who will study Arabic and international affairs at Washington, D.C.’s American University in the fall, said when first period ends at 9:56 a.m., students participating in the walkouts will head down to Lassiter’s football field.
“As far as punishment goes, the most our principal said he’ll give us is four hours of time — whether that be Saturday school or community service,” Andress said, adding Lassiter students who participate will not be suspended.
DISTRICT’S DECISION SPURS ADDITIONAL SIGN-UPS
Natalie Carlomagno, a 15-year-old sophomore at Walton High, said Cobb’s stance has actually inspired more students to sign up.
“When the county posted its statement, we were just under 1,000 signatures,” she said. As of Friday, the number of participants had grown to 2,400.
“We’re doing this because we need stronger gun legislation in this country,” she said. “We’re not saying ban all guns, but there needs to be a point where people stop calling this a mental health issue because it’s not. This is a gun issue.”
But some say Marietta Superintendent Grant Rivera’s decision to allow students to leave class opens a can of worms for any future group who wishes to protest.
Cobb GOP Chairman Jason Shepherd said the decision could pose an Equal Protection issue for other students who want to follow suit.
“If the school system allows a protest on one issue, it now has no ability to deny that right to others,” he said. “It could really become a disruption.”
Shepherd said conservative Marietta students looking to host pro-life rallies at school or march in support of the Second Amendment, now have solid ground to stand on.
Rivera said he will cross that bridge when he gets there.
“Every situation is different. I’m certainly willing to work with the student body, as the principal will be, and as situations come up in the future we will handle them on a case-by-case basis,” Rivera said. “This is the first time in my experience that we have a national school walkout.”
MARIETTA STUDENTS ‘GRATEFUL TO BE HEARD’
Marietta students organized quickly after last month’s shooting, reaching classmates via texting apps and creating posters to encourage other students to join in.
The superintendent said the district wanted to “honor and respect” the voice of its student body.
For them, Rivera said, this is about school safety.
Mary Eldridge, an 18-year-old Marietta senior, said students will tie balloons to 17 empty seats set up at the school’s practice fields, one for each of the Parkland shooting victims.
On each chair will be written the name of one person killed in last month’s attack. Each minute, Eldridge said, students will say the name and age of a victim before cutting the balloon loose.
“I think this really hit home for Marietta students because one of the alumna’s daughters was injured in the shooting,” said Eldridge, the student body’s co-president. “We’re not walking out for political reasons, we’re doing it to honor the victims and to support school safety … I would like to see schools become safer so people don’t have to be afraid when they walk into their buildings.”
But Shepherd said whether or not students will walk out of class has already become a divisive political issue among Cobb’s students, referencing a friend who said her daughter has been bullied because she will not participate Wednesday morning.
He suggested that school districts across the country look at other ways to honor the victims of the Florida school shooting, such as moments of silence or after school vigils. Such events have been planned, and a group of Walton students will meet up before school Wednesday morning to pay tribute to those killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
Across the nation, however, students are planning to simultaneously leave class when the clock strikes 10.
Atlanta Public Schools, DeKalb and Fulton’s school districts will allow the walkouts, while Cobb, Gwinnett, and Decatur’s districts have said students who leave class could be disciplined.
State Sen. Lindsey Tippins, R-west Cobb, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said while students have First Amendment rights, schools need to abide by their attendance and disciplinary policies.
“The way I see it if you waive those policies for one issue, any time a student group wants to have a walkout about anything you have set a precedent,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who isn’t upset about the incident that happened in Florida, but I think the precedent this sets is a bad (one).”
Tippins, a self-described gun rights advocate, said he believes if someone is “mentally unbalanced and bent on mayhem,” they could find other means of harming people.
Shepherd said he believes if 18-year-olds can sign up for the military and die for their country, they should be able to purchase weapons.
In the case of last month’s shooting, he said safeguards in place aimed at keeping people with ill-intent from purchasing firearms failed.
One possible solution, Shepherd said, is to reform laws aimed at safeguarding medical information so would-be gun owners with mental health issues are flagged. Shepherd also suggested doing away with sealing juveniles’ criminal records so teens with histories of violence aren’t able to purchase weapons as soon as they turn 18.
But Andress said students should never have to worry about getting shot on campus.
“We need sensible gun laws,” she said. “In six months, when I turn 18, I should not be able to go out and buy a military-grade weapon.”
The walkouts will begin at 10 a.m. and last for 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed in the Florida shooting.
District officials say no visitors will be allowed on Cobb’s campuses Wednesday with the exception of those who are picking up or dropping off students.