The Cobb County School Board heard Thursday from students who are upset and possibly awaiting punishment for participating in this week’s national walkout day.
After threatening consequences, school system officials have yet to clarify what they may be.
Students who organized as part of the walkout against school shootings pleaded for leniency at a school board meeting Thursday night.
“As students, we do not understand why some counties have fully supported this act of civil disobedience, while others have tried to silence us,” said Natalie Carlomagno, a sophomore at Walton High School.
The Cobb County School District did not endorse the 17-minute demonstrations that took place nationwide Wednesday. It had issued a statement saying participants may be subject to consequences.
“Safety was an excuse that was given so that we could not express our views. This excuse was total malarkey,” Campbell High School junior Clayton Morgan told board members.
Student speakers from several Cobb County high schools say their classmates fear suspensions, being barred from prom or getting kicked off magnet programs. It’s not clear what penalties may be in store for the hundreds of students who walked out.
A single speaker, Pamela Reardon, a resident and parent of a former Cobb County student, offered support for the district’s policy.
“I think the students are being used by certain factions in our society about these protests. And I want to commend Cobb County for saying they shouldn’t walk out because we as taxpayers are paying for their education,” Reardon said.
She says students should protest after school. Several student speakers noted they do plan to march against mass shooting violence in another national action planned for next weekend.
Walton High School freshman Divya Virmani bristled at being told by school administrators how and when to protest.
“This whole movement is student-led. And the whole reason why we want to do it for 17 minutes on March 14 is because a bunch of students at their own schools all across the nation were doing it,” Virmani said.
Hannah Andress, a senior at Lassiter High School, told board members she would have preferred to spend Thursday night studying, “but instead, I’m standing up here, advocating for myself because you didn’t.”
“The moral perversity that allows one to think that dead children are the price of freedom, is what is corroding the soul of the United States, and I am not going anywhere anytime soon. Change is here,” said Andress, who also offered board members a message from her mother: “You ended up teaching [students] a lesson in oppression and intimidation.”
Of seven board members, one, Susan Thayer, acknowledged the expressions of concern surrounding the school district’s walkout policy.
“I want to thank our students particularly who came and spoke tonight. They expressed themselves well, and we appreciate their thoughts and do respect their opinions. I know it’s been a frustrating week, but I appreciate our parents working with our schools and our students to make this as calm as we possibly could.”
Both Superintendent Chris Ragsdale and communications director John Stafford ignored requests for comment. Multiple WABE requests to clarify how or if students will be penalized for demonstrating have also gone unanswered.