Volunteer High School walkout canceled over concerns about punishment

Jeff Bobo • Feb 20, 2018 at 8:07 PM

CHURCH HILL — A group of Volunteer High School students had planned on participating in a nationwide school walkout Wednesday at noon but agreed to cancel the event over concerns that they might be punished for participating.

Evan Mays, a junior, spearheaded organizing the Volunteer walkout. He told the Times News on Tuesday the event was planned primarily as a remembrance for the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre last week.

Mays said he also intended the Volunteer walkout to be a show of solidarity with other schools across the nation planning the same type of event, as well as a call to action for his generation.

But Mays said an email from principal Bobby Wines on Tuesday instructed all teachers to take down the names of students who participated in the walkout and turn that list over to the principal's office.

As a result, the majority of students decided not to follow through with the walkout over concerns that they would be punished if they walked out.

Hawkins County Schools Assistant Director Beth Holt told the Times News on Tuesday no disciplinary action was threatened against students who participated in  Wednesday's planned walkout.

She added, however, that the walkout did present potential safety risks to the students involved, and it was going to be monitored closely if it occurred.

"We are aware that some VHS students have planned a walkout in remembrance of the Florida school shooting victims," Holt said. "Every student deserves to attend school without having to worry about their safety, and we are proud of our students and support their desire for change. Volunteer High School teachers were advised to offer students the opportunity to write letters to their elected officials expressing their thoughts on this important issue and to collect those so that the school could mail them to the appropriate officials."

Holt added, "However, we certainly support our students' desire for change and want to help them channel that desire in appropriate ways. We have already discussed plans to help students organize a voter registration drive and to continue to offer them the opportunity to write their elected officials. Our school counselors are available and eager to help any student who may be confused, scared, or angry during this difficult time."

Mays said there is a mood among many students that the type of school violence that occurred last week in Florida, and in other schools across the country, could occur at Volunteer as well.

Volunteer's upperclassmen were in middle school in 2013 when two VHS students were thwarted while planning to launch a large scale attack against the school to kill as many students and faculty as possible.

Punishment or not, Mays said he felt the walkout was important enough to take the risk.

"I fully expected to get ISS (in school suspension) when I was planning to do it, but a lot of people don't think it's worth it. I do, but I can't force people to walk out."

Mays promoted the walkout on social media. He wanted Volunteer's voice to be heard among the thousands of schools that are supposed to participate in the noon walkout nationwide.

"I got a pretty sizable amount of people together. Some people said they didn't really understand it. I was trying to make it not about gun control necessarily. I was trying to make it generally about a call to Congress that we can overcome our political party differences, and if we (students) can acknowledge that change needs to come, they should be able to do that as well."

"Schools across the nation are going to be doing it tomorrow (Wednesday) and I want Donald Trump to know that the adults in this situation are the ones sending thoughts and prayers and condolences. And while that's great, the new generation — my generation — are the ones taking action. ... The message I want people to perceive, especially the government, is that we aren't the ones who are supposed to be doing this. They're supposed to be taking care of this problem, and they aren't, so my generation is ready to take control and start bringing change."