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WNC Students Voice Opinions On School Safety

Cory Vaillancourt
Tuscola High School students (left to right) McKenzie Yazan, Molly Dorgan, Grace Feichter and Harper Schwab are ready for changes in school safety

Last week, students across the country walked out of classrooms to acknowledge the 17 people shot to death at Parkland, Fla.’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School.  Several Western North Carolina counties saw similar student activism – including Jackson and Haywood – and although weather dampened the events for some students, it didn’t dampen their desire for change.

The February 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglass was followed immediately by an outpouring of activism, as students from the Florida high school became the focus of national media attention.  And they weren’t alone – on Mar. 14, one month to the day after the shooting, schools across the nation and across the state saw walkouts by students concerned about school safety.  In Jackson County, weather shuttered schools and scuttled a planned Wednesday gathering on the football field, but according to Jackson County Schools’ Cora Fields, a student forum on school safety was still held at Smoky Mountain High School later that night.  Weather also forced the cancellation of school in Haywood County, where students from Pisgah and Tuscola high schools had planned to participate in the walkout.

Grace Feichter, a junior, helped organize the one at Tuscola.  “We had a discussion about the national walkout and if we would be interested in having one at our school, and everybody said absolutely yes,” Feichter said. “We’re tired of being afraid of going to school.”

Haywood County Schools took the step of sanctioning the walkouts, not as a political gesture, but as a way to provide a safe and organized forum for students to voice their opinions on school safety. What they’re saying is that they want change, according to 15 year-old Tuscola student McKenzie Yazan.  “I think that change starts with people in schools,” said Yazan. “I think we need to be more connected as a society, as a nation, to make sure that nothing like this happens again.”

But as officials across North Carolina consider a plan to place armed volunteers in schools, Yazan says more guns aren’t the solution.  “I think that it’s definitely not more guns in schools.” 

Whatever that solution is, Tuscola freshman Harper Schwab thinks that communication will help them find it.  “Heavy communication with students, faculty, lawmakers, the community then multiple solutions will come of that and we’ll get basically what we want which is a safer school,” said Schwab.

And even though the event didn’t happen, Schwab said that after the cancellation he and other students met with Haywood administrators, who pledged to help them move forward with another, while students from the Asheville area plan to participate in an event in Pack Square March 24.