Wednesday was an emotional day for students in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough and across the country.
Students at East Chapel Hill High School began their morning in their restorative circles – a monthly discussion on an important topic where students drive the conversation. Other recent topics have focused on sexual harassment and other issues. Wednesday’s discussion was centered on gun violence – marking the one-month anniversary of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed.
Also in honor of the anniversary, the students took part in a school walkout planned for across the country.
Just before 10 o’clock, the hallways at East were filled with students – all clad in orange t-shirts with the hashtag enough printed on them – as they made their way onto the hill in front of the school.
Max Poteat is a sophomore at East who is one of the main organizers of the student protests. He opened speeches at Wednesday’s event.
“As a group, we demand sensible gun legislation,” Poteat told the gathered students. “And we implore the students of East Chapel Hill to remain politically active after today’s walkout.”
Seventeen students then read the bios of the 17 students, teachers and faculty who were killed in the Parkland shooting.
The most emotional speech came from a student who had spent part of her childhood in Parkland and knew many of the students targeted in the shooting.
Eileen Tully is the principal at East Chapel Hill High School. She said Wednesday’s walkout presented a different situation for school administrators across the country.
“When the shooting happened on the fourteenth and the organizations sprang up and there were walkouts, I think administrators had to decide are we going to shut them down or are we going to harness that passion and turn it into a learning exercise,” Tully told reporters after the walkout. “And so that’s what our district chose to do in believing that student voice is valuable and that kids have a lot to say – and a lot that is smart, a lot that is smart and passionate and inspiring.”
Poteat said it was important that all of the high schools in the Chapel Hill – Carrboro City Schools district worked off of the same agenda Wednesday.
“I think it shows that our community needs to address this issue, and it shouldn’t just be one school agenda,” Poteat said. “And if everybody is on the same page, it creates a more powerful and impactful message.”
Students at Orange County Schools also participated in the walkout.
“I’m proud of our students for leading and using their voices to ask for change and safety,” Orange County Schools superintendent Dr. Todd Wirt said in a release. “Our schools put procedures in place to allow the students to amplify their voices and be heard, and our staff was outstanding.”
The Chapel Hill Town Council and Carrboro Board of Aldermen had previously passed resolutions supporting students in the walkout.
Students said it would be important to demand change – including enforcement of universal background checks – and not allow Wednesday’s walkout to be the end of their activism.