Students walk out, protest at Thackston Charter

The "peaceful protest" went without incident midday Friday.

Junior Gonzalez, 505-5439/@JuniorG_YD
  • Approximately 100 of the school's 523 students walked out of class and protested outside of the school.
  • Students were concerned about Principal Denise Butts, who has not been present at the school in weeks.

Approximately 100 students at Helen Thackston Charter School abruptly left their classrooms Friday and marched outside of the York City school to protest the absence of Principal Denise Butts.

Helen Thackston Charter School, 625 E. Philadelphia St., York. Amanda J. Cain photo

The walkout occurred at approximately 1:30 p.m., according to Carlos Lopez, the newly appointed CEO of the charter school.

School solicitor Brian Leinhauser earlier this week described a staff shake-up that included the termination of Kimberly Kirby, Thackston's business manager and human resources director, and the addition of Lopez as a part-time CEO.

Although Lopez and other staff members have been answering calls and emails sent to Butts since Feb. 24, Leinhauser said she is still on the school's payroll.

Helen Thackston Charter School Principal Denise Butts, left, confers with the school's attorney, Brian Leinhauser, as the York City School District holds a special meeting regarding the future of Helen Thackston Charter School at the Administration Building in York City, Feb. 13, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The solicitor said he could not discuss why she is not returning calls. Neither Kirby nor Butts could be reached for comment.

Walkout: In what Lopez described as a “peaceful protest,” students marched around the perimeter of the school twice Friday in 30-degree temperatures before re-entering the school.

“We may have lucked out because it was very cold and windy, so it didn't last very long,” he said.

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Lopez said he was made aware of the protest about an hour before students planned to walk out.

“At that point, I met with our safety team and determined it was within the students' First Amendment right to hold this demonstration,” he said.

Students were chanting messages in support of Butts and held up homemade signs. Lopez said he was impressed with the student body’s mature and responsible demonstration.

After the protest, which Lopez said lasted 15 minutes, he held an assembly in the school’s gymnasium to speak with the students.

“The first thing I said to them was, ‘Miss Butts would’ve been very proud of all of you today,’” Lopez said.

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During the assembly, Lopez was asked by students why Butts has been absent from the school. He responded, “I’m unable to answer any of your questions about Miss Butts.”

The assembly, which was held only for the 100 students who walked out, lasted about 30 minutes. The meeting ended in time for students to return to their final class period, according to Lopez.

“It was great,” he said. “Student leaders not only encouraged kids to go back to class but made sure the hallways were empty.”

Regarding Butts, Lopez said Friday he could not answer questions regarding the principal, but, like Leinhauser, stated she is still employed by the school.

“As of right now she is the principal at Helen Thackston Charter School,” he said.