Protestors conduct walkout in support of Emily Williams (updated)

Zara Thomas, Production Editor

Junior Gillian Noffert holds a sign regarding Michael Blankenship, member of the Derby Board of Education. Photo by Luis Lozano

This story was updated at 4:57 p.m. on Nov. 9 to reflect a correction made regarding the students’ punishment.

Approximately 15 to 20 students conducted a walkout Tuesday morning in support of teacher Emily Williams, who is currently under investigation after a photo of herself with a politician was posted on Facebook.

The walkout participants had planned to walk down Rock Road but were stopped before they could get off school property by administrators, who told them to return to the school.

“We get to Madison – not off school ground, though – and suddenly (assistant principals Shane) Seeley and (Corey) Gabbert roll up in the golf cart,” said junior Gillian Noffert, who organized the walkout. “They’re like, ‘handbook says student walkouts aren’t allowed. Get back inside or I’ll call the cops.’”

They were escorted back inside the building and into the auditorium, where Seeley and Gabbert spoke to them.

“(Seeley) tells us he respects what we’re doing because we’re supporting a teacher, but he needs to take proper action,” Noffert said.

The students and administrators then had a conversation, and Noffert read a policy that principal Tim Hamblin had sent her, pointing out that it only punishes the absences due to a demonstration, not the demonstration itself.

Part of the policy states, “during official school hours, demonstrations, walkouts, and/or strikes will not be allowed. If students choose to participate in these activities during school hours, they will be considered inexcusably absent from school during the time period they are not participating.”

The students were then sent back to class and were given an unexcused absence for that block, a punishment that would be given to any student who skipped class. Parents were called to be informed of the unexcused absence.

“I was amazed at the grace with which Gabbert and Seeley handled the situation,” Noffert said. “I could tell (they)… respected what we did, even if (they) had to take district-regulated measures.”

I’m not mad at the principals, I’m mad at the board.

— junior Gillian Noffert

Despite the consequences the protestors faced, they firmly believed that the issue was more important than that. 

“We wanted to show our support for Ms. Williams and also tell the school board what we think of their constant overreach of power,” Noffert said.

This issue, Noffert said, goes beyond Williams and the Civics Club.

“Frankly, I think the Board of Education fears politically aware and involved students,” she said. “Seeley told me this policy on strikes has remained unaltered (since) the ’60s and ’70s. I think that their policy infringes on our right to protest, and I think that the absence (of) punishment is meant to scare students into not advocating for themselves…. I’m not mad at the principals, I’m mad at the board.”

“If there were nothing to protest, students wouldn’t protest.”