HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – Students at Huntington High School staged a walkout this morning after some students were reportedly forced to go to a religious revival event at school.
13 News was told we could not take our cameras up Highlander Hill to cover this story, as it was not a school-sanctioned event. However, students and parents provided us video.
They tell us they walked out Wednesday because they say their religious freedoms were violated.
The walkout comes after the event, organized and led by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes invited Nik Walker Ministries to speak. A district spokesperson says the event was meant to be voluntary, but two teachers “made a mistake and took the entire class to the assembly.”
Parents recall the moment they found out about the religious revival event:
“While I was at work, my son texted me a video of basically what was a church service going on at school…I told him I’d be contacting the principal about it, and he said ‘lol, the principal is here…’ One of the students asked to leave once they were told what was going on, and they were told they couldn’t,” says Herman L. Mays, Jr., whose son is a junior at Huntington High School.
Bethany Felinton’s son is Jewish- and he’s one of the students who asked to leave the event.
“He had told me that he had asked to not participate, he wanted to go back to the classroom and his teacher told him the classroom was locked and he needed to stay,” Felinton recalls.
Some Huntington High School students say Wednesday is a chance to stand their ground.
“In spite of their non-cooperation I guess, we had a great turnout. 200-250 kids. Several community members,” says Max Nibert, a senior at Huntington High School who organized the walkout.
The spokesperson says the teachers have been “corrected” and the district doesn’t expect it to happen again.
However, they won’t elaborate on what the ‘correction’ was.
“The ‘correction’ that we don’t know exactly what it is coupled with this sort of weak promise that such an event will never happen again, it’s just not going far enough…It seems to me like the official line is trying to pass the buck on to these two teachers and really scapegoat them, and certainly they shouldn’t have done what they did, but the event should never have happened at all up at the high school during the school day,” says Jana Tigchelaar, who has two students attending school in the Cabell County School district.
Huntington High School Student Max Nibert shared a letter sent to both the Huntington High administration and the Cabell County Board of Education stating the walkout was “an attempt to convey our grievance; response from the administration and the county board of education were not satisfactory.”
“Student rights are non-negotiable, and by choosing half-hearted apologies and inaction in the aftermath of what happened, those at fault demonstrated their lack of empathy and concern for our well-being,” the letter said.
In the letter, Nibert also urged his peers to keep the walk out event “clean and professional.” He continued by saying, “We are not here as kids, but as leaders fighting for a better, fairer tomorrow.”
The walkout happened during the same free-time period that was used for the religious event.
“When you have a major constitutional violation happen like that in public schools, especially with regard to religion, you can’t just refer to it as a mistake… I don’t think anybody needs to lose their job over this, but there certainly needs to be more of a response…Formal discipline, and actual steps like some kind of policy change,” Nibert says.
An attorney from the Freedom From Religion Foundation says this isn’t the first time something like this has happened at the school, citing two incidents back in 2017 involving religious assemblies. In one of the cases, a student reported to the foundation that the assembly was supposed to be voluntary, but that their teacher mandated it.
In response back then, the district wrote they agreed that they were in violation of the Constitutional interpretation, and in-part that they would take steps to re-train their principals.
A spokesperson from Cabell County Schools declined to speak with 13 News about this incident Wednesday.