Day of Silence brings protesters to WHS
The National Day of Silence was anything but silent, at least outside Watauga High School last Friday.
The morning commute was greeted by protesters, angered by the school's alleged observance of the day created to bring awareness to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues (LGBT), even as school administrators maintained the day was not observed at Watauga.
Organizers of the day call for a nationwide vow of silence, taken to bring attention to anti-LGBT name calling, bullying and harassment in schools.
Many parents were not aware of the April 16 nationwide observance, and were as surprised as WHS principal Michael Wyant to witness the protesters.
"I'm not sure why they were protesting here ... but they weren't on school property, they have their rights to do whatever, I suppose," Wyant said.
According to Wyant, the school did not observe the National Day of Silence Friday.
"We are not participating in anything," he said. "That is not a school activity. It is not something we are going to get involved in. We are here to educate the students, not engage in controversy."
While he did observe students wearing "shirts from both sides," Wyant said nothing worn was inappropriate and said he was "not aware of any [students] who have said they are not going to speak."
"This is a regular school day for us," he said. "If you had come in, you wouldn't have noticed anything different."
It was a different case in 2004. Student Michael Austin was suspended for wearing a shirt with biblical quotes in protest of the National Day of Silence. Wyant said he was not here in 2004, but had been apprised of the controversy. "Nothing like that happened today," he said Friday.
Many groups in opposition to the day say it's not about being anti-LGBT, but because they want to keep politics out of the classroom. Groups like Mission America encourage parents to keep their students home during National Day of Silence.
Previously, students who have stayed home have received excused absences from Watauga County Schools, but not recently.
"We expect all of our students to attend regularly on all days," Watauga Schools superintendent Marty Hemric said. "Nothing's going on inside the school that's illegal. We're there to operate for learning. We're in a society where there's differences in people's beliefs and stances on issues, and everyone has their constitutional rights for their stance, I'm sure, as long as it's peaceable. In the school environment ... we keep one focus, and that's teaching and learning."
He, like Wyant, was unaware of any controversy within the walls of WHS Friday.
While he recognized the morning group's right to protest, he agreed with Wyant that there was no cause for alarm at WHS.
"In the past two years, I have seen no distractions in learning affiliated with people's freedom of expression ... we have a student body that works together and they're growing together," he said.
Students said that, while a few did observe the Day of Silence, "last year it was a lot bigger."
One student, who wished to remain anonymous, said the protesters caused more issues at WHS than the few kids who took the vow of silence.
"The protesters did cause a kind of an uneasiness amongst all the students, even those who aren't for gay rights," the student said. "We just didn't really like seeing protesters out there. Especially since the school didn't make a big deal out of [National Day of Silence]. We just thought it was a bit unnecessary."