CAIRO — There will be no disciplinary action for the seven Cairo High School students who kneeled during the national anthem last week, the Grady County School System has announced.
Superintendent Kermit Gilliard said the students, all of whom are members of the school marching band, cannot face punishment for their actions due to existing federal laws protecting students' right to protest. The students also did not violate any written school rules.
"As an educational institution, it is our responsibility to take moments like this and learn from them, as well as teach our students," the school system wrote in a statement Tuesday evening. "The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that students do not 'shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.'"
The students' protest was in reference to police shootings of unarmed Black people and racial injustice across the United States, not in response to any specific local issues, Gilliard said.
Friday's protest drew mixed reactions from the community, and subsequent discussions of the incident on social media platforms produced multiple posts that school system officials interpreted as threats toward students and property. Local law enforcement agencies were made aware of the posts, and additional school resource officers were posted at CHS Monday morning to ensure no violence took place.
In most cases, the individuals making the apparent threats were adults, not students.
School system officials are asking adults in the community to back off on social media and let students work through the issues themselves.
"We are asking the community to be respectful and refrain from derogatory social media posts and to teach their own children the values they believe will help them most through life," the school system wrote.
One comment the school system found troubling that did involve a student occurred after a girl insinuated she would use a firearm to defend herself from online critics. School police spoke with the girl's family at their home Tuesday evening, where they discovered that the 18-year-old had a legal permit to carry a firearm.
"We had to explain to them that you don't have the right to carry at a high school campus," Gilliard said.
The girl's family then met with school administrators Wednesday morning. Gilliard said the girl likely will be facing disciplinary action for the post.
The perceived threat was made in response to a racist Snapchat message in reference to the protest that was posted to social media earlier this week.
"They used words and symbols to essentially say the n-word without saying it," Gilliard said. "It was a stupid remark."
A screen shot of the message was posted to social media, attracting hundreds of comments, some of which the school system is looking into as potential threats.
"The sad thing is that a lot of the responses are coming from adults, not students," Gilliard said.
The student who wrote the Snapchat message faces potential disciplinary action.The superintendent said that school investigators are "fairly certain" that the message was written while the student was on campus.
Administrators and local law enforcement continue to investigate other perceived threats — including an offer to pay anyone who attacks the children involved in Friday's protest and an allusion that vehicles in the CHS student parking lot would be damaged..
No reports of violence or damaged vehicles have occurred at CHS or elsewhere in the community to date, Gilliard said.
The superintendent noted that neither threat came from a student.
"It's very difficult for us at school because we don't have any jurisdiction over adults," he said.
All perceived threats made by adults are being referred to the Cairo Police Department or the Grady County Sheriff's Office, Gilliard said.
As for comments directed toward students, the superintendent said there's not much that can be done.
"There's a lot stuff you can say that's very ugly but that's not necessarily a threat," he said.
Moving forward, Gilliard said the school system is looking to encourage students who are processing the political climate to discuss their feelings with a trusted adult, whether that be a parent, teacher, counselor, or other figure.
"We are working on better communication between students and adults," the superintendent said. "We are looking at the possibility of starting some type of program that will help guide us."
Gilliard said he was unsure what that program could look like, but added that the school system is "definitely looking at ways to improve and make sure that students have a voice."