Members of the audience participate during a March For Our Lives rally at Eagles Nest Church in Roswell, Monday, July 30, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Fulton schools says decision to pull rally permit was safety issue

Fulton County School System’s decision to rescind the permit for a rally at Centennial High School aimed at ending school gun violence has stirred up social media.

Those supporting the March For Our Lives movement and the student organizers behind the Road to Change summer tour have rebuked the administration for changing its mind about allowing the event Monday on school property.

VIDEO: In other Fulton schools news

Officials say the cameras will help keep everything transparent.

The movement was launched by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., after a gunman killed 17 people at that school in February. Parkland students are part of the Road to Change tour, and some of them spoke at Monday’s rally, which drew about 1,000 people.

Social media posts about Fulton’s move included:

“Shame on you!! The only thinks (sic) you’re teaching the next generation is how to shut them down when you don’t agree with the message. That’s not what I remember about civics …. do the right thing, let them meet. You may learn something!”

“Any idea why they changed their mind? Permit given, permit taken away. Sad”

In an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Clifford Jones, Fulton County Schools chief academic officer, said the district exercised an abundance of caution when it appeared the organizers hadn’t properly addressed several aspects of the application process.

A Twitter post from the school district Friday listed reasons the permit was not given. Those included the lack of advance payment as its facility-rental policy requires; lack of an acceptable insurance certificate, and lack of documentation that adequate security arrangements were made. Fulton also said, “District policy requires that only non-profits and for-profit businesses, not individuals, can apply to rent facilities.”

“We were already working on a compressed timeline,” said Jones. “The average lease takes about 21 days to finalize. When they didn’t get all the outstanding issues resolved by the 4:30 p.m Friday deadline, we had to deny the permit.”

“Fulton County has a tradition of empowering students to have a voice in issues of the day,” said Jones. Although he just came into his role on July 1, he pointed out that the district coordinated with students event for the April 20 walkout organized across the country in remembrance of the victims of the Columbine, Colo. mass school shooting 19 years ago.

Organizers of Monday’s rally have a different take on events.

Nurah Abdulhaqq, a student at Chapel Hill High School,said, “We received email confirmation on July 24 that we could hold the town hall at Centennial. And then around 2:30 on Friday we were told that they needed extra information.”

The students scrambled to meet the 4:30 p.m. deadline. At 5 they received word that the permit had been pulled.

The sponsoring organization, Georgia Alliance for Social Justice stepped in on Saturday trying to reach an agreement to use the school. “The discussions were amicable,” said Jones. “But we decided to stick with our decision.”

Abdulhaqq said a similar incident happened in Salt Lake City, where a movie theater pulled out a few days before the town hall. But the organizers found an alternative at the last minute.

When asked if they’ve learned anything from these experiences, she quickly said, “Make sure you have a backup plan.”

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