South GA students participate in National School Walkout Day

Published: Mar. 14, 2018 at 12:04 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 15, 2018 at 1:44 AM EDT
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Lee County School System Assistant Superintendent Kevin Dowling (Source: WALB)
Lee County School System Assistant Superintendent Kevin Dowling (Source: WALB)
Lee County School System officials said they support their students' right to protest (Source:...
Lee County School System officials said they support their students' right to protest (Source: WALB)

(WALB) - Nearly a month after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, students across the country walked out in protest for National School Walkout Day on Wednesday.

The purpose of the event is to remember the lives lost in the Parkland shooting and also a call to action for gun violence in schools.

Students in school districts in Southwest Georgia took part in the protest.

Around 600 students stood outside of Westover High School in solidarity for 17 minutes.

At Albany Middle School, several dozen students huddled around the school's flag-pole for the same duration.

And one student at Robert Cross Middle School participated in the walk-out.

"We think that part of educating the whole child, which is our push now in Dougherty County Schools System, includes supporting social awareness and supporting students who decide to express their rights," said DCSS Spokesperson J.D. Sumner.

Dougherty County School officials said all the students returned to their classrooms after the walkout.

For Lee County Schools Assistant Superintendent Kevin Dowling, Wednesday was all about finding a balance.

MORE: Lee Co. students participate in National School Walkout Day

"Finding that balance between supporting your kids and making sure the school day is not too disruptive. That's what we all endeavor for," explained Dowling.

Dowling said faculty and staff won't participate with the students, but they will be there in spirit.

"It wasn't just students who were killed in Parkland. There were educators killed as well and school violence across the nation. It affects a lot of students, yes it does, but it also affects educators," said Dowling.

One of the organizers at Lee County High School is a sophomore who wants to shed light on this issue.

Haygan Muse is only 16 but is aiming to make a difference on the issue of gun violence in schools.

She said in order to make a difference, students have to take a stand.

She explained this is a great opportunity for students and the community to realize what is happening across the nation and really put it in perspective. How it would impact their community if it was their own kids targeted.

Muse said she was getting ready for the event and writing all of the students' names on individual pieces of papers and she realized how tragic this was for the Parkland community.

"I held that stack in my hand and it really resonated with me, like how many students that is. That's half of one of my classes and it just means a lot," said Muse.

The announcement was projected over the loud-speakers around 9:30 a.m. that students who wanted to participate could walk outside.

Hundreds of students gathered in the football stadium bleachers.

Student Government Association leaders said they wanted the demonstration to not be about politics, but as a tribute to lives lost.

Other students expressed gun control concerns.

But, overall, students said they were happy to be part of such a large movement.

"The fact that so many high schoolers are making a stand to respect these victims and go towards a great political movement like this. I think it's powerful and amazing," said LCHS senior Chase Graham.

Close to 200 students in Thomas County participated in the demonstration.

Administrators really didn't know how many students to expect, a few had asked about it beforehand.

They said they were pleasantly surprised at how respectful the students were.

The constant question from students was, 'Can we? Can we participate in this protest? Can we have a moment of silence? Can we have a pass to class?' A lot of respect for these young students who just want to stand up for what they believe in, school safety.

The administrators at Thomas County Central High School said they know that some schools were considering disciplinary action.

There was a lot of discussion about that with schools in South Georgia, according to high school principal Trista Jones. She said she did not think that it was worthy of discipline.

Jones said she thinks it was peaceful, respectful and that she is really proud of the students.

Valdosta students said they're not only frustrated but in fear for their safety. Around 50 students participated in Wednesday's demonstration.

MORE: Valdosta students take a stand during National School Walkout Day

Students said they are fighting for their lives in today's society and now is the time to stand up and speak out.

Students in Worth County participated in the #WalkUpNotWalkOut movement, where students were encouraged to extend kindness to others.

Not every school district participated in the walkout.

Colquitt County Superintendent Doug Howell said students there did not walk out because the district believes it would put students in an unsafe position and that public schools cannot legally participate in a protest of any kind.

Students did, however, observe a 17-second moment of silence for the victims inside classrooms Wednesday morning followed by short discussions on school safety issues.

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