Education

Chapel Hill students who walk out for gun control Friday will face consequences

Student walkout: East Chapel Hill High students walk out and speak out

East Chapel Hill High students walk out of school and speak out against gun violence on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, FL mass shooting that killed 17 people.
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East Chapel Hill High students walk out of school and speak out against gun violence on Wednesday, March 14, 2018, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, FL mass shooting that killed 17 people.

High school students in Chapel Hill plan another walkout for stricter gun laws Friday, but this one will carry consequences.

Students who miss school to participate in the walkout, which is part of a National Walkout coinciding with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, will do so without the support of school officials and face the appropriate penalty, officials said.

Under the Student Code of Conduct, disrupting school, the offense that appears most closely associated with walking out of class without authorization, is considered a Level I to a Level III offense with the consequences ranging from a phone call to parents to in-school suspension.

School officials supported an orchestrated March 14 student walkout that also coincided with a national school walkout. It took place on campuses, and afterward, students returned to classes.

But school leaders see Friday's walkout differently because students plan to leave campus and walk several miles to rally at the Peace and Justice Plaza on East Franklin Street.

High school principals made a robo call to parents this week telling them the event planned by CHC Enough, a student-led anti-gun violence organization, would be viewed as a school disruption and violation of the Student Code of Conduct.

"We fully support student voice, however it must be done in a way that is safe and doesn’t negatively impact education," the principals said in their call. "The April 20 walkout as currently promoted is a disruption to the school day, and a violation of the student code of conduct - which will be enforced."

Talia Pomp, a senior at East Chapel Hill High School and one of the organizers, said the intent of the walkout is to disrupt and to engage in civil disobedience.

Pomp said the more than 100 students expected to walkout on Friday are prepared to accept the consequences. She said some middle school students have also expressed interest in joining.

"I'm not worried about an unexcused absence, detention or suspension," Pomp said. "I think this issue is bigger than that."

Pomp said Chapel Hill police officers have agreed to escort students to the rally on Franklin Street where speakers will demand that Congress and state lawmakers support universal background checks, raising the minimum age to buy a gun to 21 and bans on bump stocks and assault rifles among other stricter gun-control measures.

Students across the country have organized events nationally since the Feb. 14 school massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. Students walked out of class on March 14, and events were held during March 24 March for Our Lives rallies.

Meanwhile, Robert Romano, the vice president of public policy at Americans for Limited Government, wrote a column for the conservative organization's online publication "Daily Torch" questioning why state attorney generals are allowing school walkouts, which he contends are in violation of state law.

"There is no First Amendment obligation to allow for school walkouts.," Romano wrote. "If states or individual school districts were to adopt policies that allow for them, which they could do, the risk is that they could be staged every day."

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