At least two Bluffton High School students say they were given all-day, in-school suspensions — arguably the most severe option available to the principal in this case — as punishment for cutting class to participate in a 17-minute nationwide walkout Wednesday protesting lawmakers' failure to improve school safety.
Up to 67 of the 76 Bluffton High students who walked out in solidarity with the survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., face punishment for their participation, though Beaufort County School District officials refused to release information on what punishments, if any, the students have been given.
"We don’t discuss student discipline cases publicly or in a group or any other way," district spokesman Jim Foster said, citing district policy.
In the lead-up to the walkout, the school district faced criticism for discouraging students from taking part. Students were given other options to express their support for the Florida shooting victims.
Bluffton High sophomore Ami Hughey, who has led the charge in the school safety protest since she wrote of the district's "silencing" of students on 12 bathroom walls three weeks ago, was signed out by a parent and does not face punishment. That's the case for eight other students as well.
Senior and student body president Desiree Bailey received an all-day, in-school suspension for her 17 minutes of defiance. She will serve the suspension Friday, which falls on her first scheduled day of "field experience" at an elementary school.
She said her mom worked out an arrangement with school administrators allowing Bailey to attend the field experience and serve her suspension for the remaining school periods.
"I am not sad with what I did," she wrote on her Facebook page. "I don't regret walking out. Some of you may disagree and you don't have to agree but I've decided I'm not going to be silenced by anyone."
Cutting class is a level one offense, according to the district's Student Handbook. School administrators have the following options at their disposal for this type of offense: administrative conference, counseling, parent conference, detention, bus suspension, community/school service, reprimand, behavior contract or an in-school suspension.
Students serving an in-school suspension do not miss out on coursework or exams, but complete it in a separate classroom. The punishment is noted in a student's confidential file, but does not appear on a high school transcript, Foster said.
Some Bluffton High student athletes, including soccer player Priscilla Jean, said they were told by their coaches that walking out means a suspension from the next game.
According to the Student Athlete handbook, a student suspended or absent from school is ineligible to practice, play, or attend any meetings during the suspension or absence.
Up to 10 students can fit in Bluffton High's in-school suspension room at one time, Foster said.
This means a student's participation in an extracurricular activity could be impacted depending on which day a student is assigned to serve a suspension.
As of Thursday afternoon, some students said they still hadn't received their punishment.
"They're going in alphabetical order," said junior Olivia Workman, who had yet to receive hers. "There are some kids who got (in-school suspension) and some just got lunch detention, but we don't know (what) the administration is basing the punishment off of."
Asked about any public safety incidents related to the walkout, Beaufort County Sheriff's Office Lt. Col. Bill Neill said, "None at all. No reports of anything that was out of line."
Bluffton Police Department stationed additional officers at both Bluffton High and May River High School. Capt. Joe Babkiewicz said, "Everyone was well-behaved, and it was a peaceful event."
In Jasper County, fewer than 10 students at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School walked outside to the school's courtyard, but stayed only a few minutes.
The majority of high school students walked into the hallway of the school for 17 minutes and met with Superintendent Donald Andrews during lunch to discuss school safety. Hardeeville-Ridgeland Middle School conducted an assembly about school safety in the gymnasium.
No students were punished as a result of walking out, Jasper County School District spokeswoman La'Shanda Grant wrote in an email.