Hylton Students Commemorate Victims of School Shootings

Student leaders at Hylton met with Principal Cassady on Feb 27 to find peaceful and safe opportunities to pay tribute to the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Columbine

Chloe Koulefianou and Savannah Winstead

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Hylton students commemorated the victims of school shootings during a moment of silence on March 14 at 10:00 a.m. A banner was also set up in the commons on Monday, March 12 to give students an opportunity to sign and write a note to students and staff in Parkland. At the end of the week, the banner will be sent to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  These were the only student planned activities approved by administration for March 14. Principal David Cassady told student leaders in a meeting on Feb 27 that student safety was his primary concern.

In a statement read to students on March 13 Principal Cassady said, “We are asking that all students participate in the already planned activities for Hylton HS on March 14 and April 20.  This will minimize classroom disruptions and give students a safe environment to participate and have their voices heard on both dates.”

Despite the planned and approved observances, some students walked out of class following the moment of silence.  Some chanted “never again” and “enough is enough.” Students who left class were marked absent from that class and were marked tardy if they arrived late to their next class.  Senior Silas Sneed said, “I’m extremely proud of my peers for voicing their opinions.  Even though we may not agree all the time, I’m proud that we can come together and exercise our 1st amendment.”

When Student Council officers met with Principal Cassady, the group agreed to a moment of silence on March 14, the one-month anniversary of the Parkland shooting. Principal Cassady also approved a brief, organized walkout on April 20 to mark the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, which will allow students to head outside to a predetermined destination at a scheduled time for 17 minutes of silence. While there, they may write letters to their legislators or cards to the Parkland victims. The silence will be broken with a song of hope sung by the Troubadours. Teachers will provide supervision for students both inside and outside the building during that time. No students or staff will be forced to participate in the walkout.  Participants are encouraged to make school appropriate signs and wear orange to show solidarity.

In a statement to parents and students on Feb 21, Prince William County Schools Superintendent Dr. Steven Walts said, “Students who cause disruptions or leave school without authorization will face disciplinary consequences, in keeping with the PWCS Code of Behavior.” Some students and parents responded negatively to the email, saying it infringed on the first amendment right of freedom of assembly.

Hylton Senior Class President Kathleen Gurango said in a Feb 21 tweet that the county’s stance “teaches us [students] cowardice and complacency.”

In a second statement to parents and students on Feb 22, Dr. Walts said, “No one wants you to succeed more than I do. I just want to make sure you’re safe, and still getting a good education while you try to tell the world about the need to prevent school shootings.”

Hylton Senior and PWCS’s Student Representative Kate Arnold said, “My job as student rep isn’t to go along with what Dr. Walts wants or what the school board wants or what your parents want; it’s what you guys want.”

 

Students in the front of C.D. Hylton High School stand in solidarity with Marjory Stoneman Douglass students.

For students and parents worried about disciplinary action, this CNN article highlights the protections students do and do not have. The court case Tinker vs. Des Moines ruled that students do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”  The article warned that if a “walkout turns disruptive, schools can stop students from participating and take some punitive measures.”

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