‘They showed up:’ West Charlotte H.S. students protest, express concerns about recent violence, guns in schools

They are using their voices, asking for change and raising awareness of violence in schools
Students are taking a stand against recent violence and guns being brought into schools across the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district.
Published: Dec. 17, 2021 at 10:57 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 17, 2021 at 11:20 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Students are taking a stand against recent violence and guns being brought into schools across the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district.

“There has been a lot of violence and negativity going around, not just around guns but in general, and not just dealing with West Charlotte and CMS, but all around the world and the United States,” said West Charlotte High School senior Katie Moua.

Students organized a peaceful protest Friday morning at West Charlotte High School. On Thursday, multiple students in the West Charlotte High School chapter of Students Against Violence Everywhere sent an email to the Board of Education asking them to meet with them.

“We just wanted to talk on a deeper level, we wanted to gain an understanding of how things are passed like the clear book bags,” Moua said.

Students say they originally planned a “die-in” demonstration but says administration was concerned. That’s when they had a moment of recognition next to the memorial honoring WCHS student Alexander Oraneg who was killed by gun violence in 1989.

What students say they didn’t expect was the BOE and Superintendent to show up as soon as they did. They also met with Board members Jennifer De La Jara, Margaret Marshall, Lenora Shipp, and Thelma Byers-Bailey. Other district-level staff members were also present.

“We had a great discussion with students from West Charlotte High. They requested a conversation with members of our Board of Education to share their concerns about school safety,” Superintendent Earnest Winston said. “We also discussed strengthening student/teacher relationships, student advocacy and the need to hire more counselors, psychologists, and social workers. We always welcome the opportunity to include student voices into our decision-making, and school safety is an area where they provide unique perspective. This was an impressive group of young people. We will incorporate their candid feedback into our efforts to create change that will help protect students and staff”

Byers-Bailey and Shipp are graduates of WCHS, students say it warmed their heart for alumni to be present on the board and make an effort to work with them.

“It just provided an extra layer of we’re taking you seriously and we’re going to address these problems and we actually do care,” said WCHS senior Jayla Soares.

Soares says she and other members of S.A.V.E. and the IB cohort we’re grateful for the opportunity to speak one-on-one with district leaders.

“Safety is our priority, there’s no learning that can be done in these schools without safety,” Soares said.

Students also took the time to ask questions about recent safety measures including clear backpacks, increased random safety screenings, metal detectors, and the upcoming anonymous reporting system.

Soares says she wasn’t sold on the clear backpacks at first but gained more insight after her conversation with Winston.

“We counter-argued some of the solutions that we could agree on, but just seeing the steps he’s already making tells us that he’s serious,” Soares said.

“It’s making it hard for us to focus”: West Charlotte High School senior and parent share how recent violence is impacting them

“We just wanted to talk one on one, usually students don’t get to do that and we wanted to have the opportunity,” Moua said.

Students also say they want people to know and told the board “We don’t want to be known as a school of violence, we want to be known for our excellence.”

Students say they want to be more involved and alerted when it comes to Board decisions.

“A lot of them reassured us that they were going to find a way to change this and I truly do believe in them because as you see they’re trying, they showed up here today,” Soares said.

Moua says she’s also seeing a positive shift - students taking action to stop violence when they see it.

“The more we see so much violence, more good people want to do more good,” Moua said.

Students also requested CMS hire more psychologists and behavior modification technicians - board members say they agree but this is a matter of federal funding and restrictions - which is why they’re pushing for and encouraging students to write their senators and representatives.

WBTV spoke to At-Large Board member Jennifer De La Jara off-camera who says Friday’s conversation was “amazing” and she cares about helping students understand board decisions and current safety measures.

Last Monday, police said a shot was fired at West Charlotte High School while two students were fighting over a bookbag. The shooting happened on the property but not in the school, but it forced students to revert to remote learning the next day.

“What happened today is not a reflection of the hard work that takes place on West Charlotte’s campus,” CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said. on Monday. “Today’s incident is yet another example of issues that originate in our community that make their way onto our school campuses.”

There have been at least 23 guns found at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools during this school year.

A senior at West Charlotte High School told WBTV that constant fights and lockdowns are disrupting her education.

“It’s making it hard for us to focus on what we’re really going to school for,” student Jahzara Horton said. “We’re sitting here worrying about what’s gonna happen or who did this.”

West Charlotte sophomore Malachi Thompson, a member of the Student Government Association, said he spoke at Tuesday’s board of education meeting expressing his and other students’ concerns and offered suggestions to the Board.

“I’m usually not scared of stuff, but it shook me to the point where I had to go to speak out,” Thompson said. “That’s why I had to go to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education Meeting, so I could actually use my voice for the bettering of our schools. Greatness comes out of West Charlotte, it’s not only violence at West Charlotte.”

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