A Bluffton High School student called her fellow peers to participate in a nationwide walkout next month to protest the lack of safety inside schools — something Beaufort County School District officials have specifically requested students not to do — by writing the message in black permanent marker on all of the school’s bathroom walls Friday.
Sophomore Ami Hughey wrote this message on 12 school bathrooms, boys’ included, during lunch period:
“The district is trying to tell us we are not allowed to protest for better school security. Are we just going to let them take away our voices? If you want to help prevent school shootings, join the national school walkout on March 14 at 10 a.m. WE WILL NOT BE SILENCED.”
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On the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., shooting that killed 17 people, teachers and students across the country are planning to walk out of school for 17 minutes — one for each victim.
Beaufort County School District officials are discouraging students from walking out of the school buildings, citing safety reasons, and said principals are working with students to find alternative ways to express themselves on the issue.
At Bluffton High, administrators met with the school’s Student Council and decided to dedicate a 17-minute period starting at 10 a.m. for students to write their thoughts, condolences or protests on Post-it notes, according to district spokesman Jim Foster. Students will stick their notes up during lunch in the school’s atrium, a main gathering place for students, that may lead to meaningful cafeteria conversations.
Ami says Bluffton High’s security controls are far from where they should be and is advocating for metal detectors in each school.
“We should honor the students’ deaths by using our voices to make a change in the security of schools,” she said.
On Friday alone, students at three schools reported threats. Law enforcement found each to be unsubstantiated. However, some of the investigations are still active. At Beaufort Middle, where a threat was written on a bathroom wall, extra police presence will be stationed at the school next week.
“Nothing is more important (than) the safety of our students and staff,” according to a district news release Friday. “It’s a constant focus in our buildings, and that will continue.”
Ami said she did not take any photos of her work. In a photo posted to her mother’s Facebook page, someone appeared to write a response to one of Ami’s messages:
“No it’s for the kids who died. Don’t make it political,” the message said in all-caps.
Ami’s mom, Mia Hughey, describes her 15-year-old as a straight-A student who has never before made trouble. She participates in the drama club and enrolled in the Advanced Placement Capstone program, a rigorous college-level research course by one of the nation’s best teachers.
“I thought the best way to get my message across was a way that couldn’t be thrown out or scrolled past (on social media),” the 15-year-old said.
Writing on each of the school’s dozen bathrooms took less than 20 minutes, making Ami 10 minutes late to art class.
“(The teacher) asked me and I wasn’t going to lie,” Ami said of why she was tardy.
Mother Mia Hughey says she arrived to Bluffton High within half an hour after she received a phone call from administrators. On the way there, she called her husband and asked him to meet her at the school with cleaning supplies. Hughey arrived Friday afternoon and asked to see what her daughter had done, but Ami’s words had already been painted over.
“Every bathroom was vandalized,” Foster said. “All 12. The bathrooms will have to be cleaned up at taxpayer expense, which is obviously unacceptable.”
He added that the writing was “removed” and more painting would be done Monday. He did not have an estimate of the cleanup cost immediately available Saturday, but said it was more than $50 worth of damage.
Vandalism of property where the valued damage exceeds $50 is a level three offense, according to the district’s Student Code of Conduct, which carries a penalty of up to a six-day, out-of-school suspension for high school students.
Ami says she may be sent to alternative school and already has a date set in family court.
She says she has received a three-day out-of-school suspension next Tuesday through Thursday. Her punishment should have started Monday, but she has a presentation to the College Board that day as part of her AP Capstone.
“They didn’t want me to miss that,” she said.