Whitfield superintendent won't let students take part in Wednesday walkout

Photo: MSNBC

Whitfield County's superintendent says she won't allow students to participate in a national walkout on Wednesday.

Dr. Judy Gilreath originally decided to let Whitfield County students to participate in the walkout to honor the 17 students who lost their lives in the recent shooting incident at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

Organizers say the walkout is to last seventeen minutes, one minute for each student who died.

While initially supporting it, after speaking with administrators, Dr. Gilreath says she has changed her mind.

Gilreath says students do have rights under the First Amendment to our Constitution to express their views, but they do not have the right to express those views whenever and however they wish, and they have no right to walk out of class during the school day without consequences.

If students do choose to walk out of class they will get an unexcused absence from class.

Gilreath also says if students want to have peaceful protests, they can be held outside of the school day.

Related | Schools in the Tennessee Valley prepare for national student walkout day Wednesday

Meanwhile, students at Heritage High School in Catoosa County still plan to walk out on Wednesday.

Heritage students created a website saying that teachers are aware of the event.

The website says students will speak out against school violence in order to inspire ways to make school a safer place, and the walkout was approved by the administration including the school and board.

Late last month, Hamilton County Schools released a set of recommendations for principals for the March 14th walkout.

The HCDE shared the following suggestions with principals:

  • Consider working with your student leadership groups to organize and plan for students who desire to take part in the walkout
  • Make sure your faculty is informed and that you are prepared with adequate staff to oversee the time
  • Encourage students to hold the walk-out indoors. Possibly the gym, cafeteria, auditorium, etc.
  • Have student leaders plan an activity to remember students lost in the most recent incident in Florida
  • Ensure plans are in place for students who do not wish to take part in the walkout
  • Communicate with students and faculty after plans are in place

The website appears to be behind many of the March 14th walkouts.

A page on their website says the walkouts are designed to send a message to members of Congress: "We demand that Congress enact an immediate resolution declaring gun violence a public health crisis and dedicating federal funding to research solutions and implement violence intervention programs. We demand Congress recognize all forms of gun violence, including violence committed by police."

The page provides a list of policies the group supports and opposes.

The policies the group supports include:

  • Banning assault weapons & high capacity magazines
  • Expanding background checks to all gun sales
  • Passing gun violence restraining order law
  • The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act

Policies the group opposes include:

  • Conceal Carry Reciprocity
  • "Any legislation that would aim to fortify our schools with more guns."

NewsChannel 9 located three local walkouts registered on that website:

  • McCallie Men Walk Out
  • Tyner Academy
  • Cleveland High

Cleveland School Superintendent Dr. Russell Dyer issued a statement in support of students' right to advocacy:

"Dear Cleveland Middle and Cleveland High School Parents,

Recently, I have learned students are considering plans to exercise their constitutional right to peacefully assemble in order to bring national attention to the topic of school safety. I respect and support the right of our students to advocate for causes that are important to them and welcome the opportunity to work with any student group to discuss appropriate and creative ways to do so while at school. School Superintendents across the state received guidance from the Tennessee Department of Education supporting the rights of students to peacefully assemble.

We are currently aware that students may consider peacefully assembling at Cleveland Middle and Cleveland High on Wednesday, March 14, as part of a national movement, and we are working with student leaders and teachers to ensure students can express themselves through peaceful assembly in a way that protects the safety of every student, including those who both do and do not participate, and respects the views of every member of our school community. In addition, it is important to know that disorderly conduct that disrupts school operations is not acceptable and will be handled compassionately, but firmly, in accordance with our board policy and internal procedures. This assembly is expected to last 17 minutes in honor of the 17 victims in the recent Florida school shooting. No one from outside the school community will be allowed to come on campus to join in this assembly.

I encourage you to talk with your child(ren) about how they may be feeling about this topic. Our educators will also be highlighting the connection between what students are learning in the classroom, particularly on civic engagement and students’ constitutional rights, and what they are seeing in the real world. We love the passion of our students on various issues, and we recognize that student activism is part of the learning process.

If you or your child(ren) would like to speak with a school counselor regarding fears or anxieties regarding school safety or what they may see on social media or TV regarding incidents like what happened in Florida, please feel free to reach out to your school’s counseling team. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health is also available at 855-274-7471 and they are available 24/7.

Thank you for your continued support of Cleveland City Schools. You are welcome to contact your school administrators with specific questions.


Dr. Russell Dyer

Director of Schools"

This is a developing story, and our coverage of these local school walkouts will continue.

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