As the school year is winding down, many who watched the anti-America/pro-Hamas agitators on campus are wondering, how did this happen? Why are University of North Carolina students setting up tent encampments, occupying  buildings, and pounding on doors screaming their demands? Students haven’t openly demonstrated like this since the 1960’s. 

The seeds of agitation may be sown by the North Carolina Association of Education (NCAE), which proclaims, “We need to dismantle unjust systems.” And by “unjust system,” they seem to mean everything that doesn’t align with the most recent progressive trend. While students being allowed to express themselves is important, schools that allow, or even encourage, major disruptions in the school day (like walkouts and rallies) for radical causes should focus instead on boosting the state’s reading and math scores.

This kind of thinking, frequently encouraged by teachers and administrators, perhaps led students at Carrboro High School to place a “Do-It-Yourself Occupation Guide” in their school library. On its cover is a crowbar. It instructs students on how to circumvent alarm systems and lock boxes, how to use angle grinders and bolt cutters, and how to bring “a mass of bodies to a building,” thereby removing a space “from the capitalist landscape.” Fortunately, pressure from parents led to the guide’s removal.  

Protesting is actively encouraged in Chapel Hill/Carrboro City Schools, since “social justice action” is one of their five core values. This school system borders on the UNC campus. The impetus to protest, however, reaches beyond the vicinity of UNC and appears to be accelerating.

For example, in May 2022, students at Madison Early College High School in Asheville went to protest in front of Madison High School against the overturning of Roe v Wade. That same month, hundreds of students at Carrboro High School walked out of class to protest the same issue, and about 250-300 left campus, missing half a day in class. Soon thereafter, Riverside High School students in Durham walked out of class to protest the overturning of Roe v Wade and in support of gun control.

In 2023, students joined a National School Walkout in response to school shootings. Students at Guilford County high schools, including Grimsley High, walked out to support gun reform. In Charlotte, Garringer High School students also walked out of class to protest “gun violence.”  

In January of this year, Spotswood High School students in Rockingham County walked out over temporary removal of 57 books from library shelves. 

Protests have also frequently taken place in response to issues surrounding international human rights and wars. Therefore, it would make sense for students to protest China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, oppression of women in Islamic countries, or the wars in Ukraine, Syria or Yemen. Not so. Instead, after the terrorist organization Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, students came out to protest — on behalf of Hamas. 

In December 2023, students at Wakefield High School in Raleigh held a “Rally for Justice” for “Palestine and other countries.” When parents and the community expressed concern about the inherent ignorance and antisemitism that would be promulgated by such an event, Allison Shafer, general counsel for the State Board of Education stated “neither the State Board of Ed nor the State Superintendent have the authority to intervene in local matters such as this” due to “US Supreme Court case law that makes it clear that students ‘do not shed their first amendment free speech rights at the schoolhouse door.”   

Right after the rally, a Wakefield participant told Jewish students “maybe we should bring back Hitler.” When a complaint was made, the principal’s response was that students have a right to express their opinion.

In February 2024, Carrboro High School students walked out of school, chanting, “stop the genocide,” and repeating other Hamas talking points. They were joined by students at Chapel Hill High School.

In March, when a teacher in Durham did not return to school after a photo showed her in front of a “Palestinian” flag in her classroom, students staged a walkout to protest her absence. They held signs reading “free Palestine” and “end the occupation,” i.e. evidence of their anti-Israel/antisemitic indoctrination.  

These demonstrations are intimidating to those students who may not agree with the agenda or just want to focus on their studies. The protests are often a manifestation of poor education. Many of these actions promote hatred of Jews. In any case, this kind of activism translates to protests and encampments we see at UNC, across the state, and beyond.

While student demonstrations will die down over the summer, there is every indication that they will return in full force this fall unless there is a change in leadership. Reforms are needed at multiple levels, from the Department of Instruction down to school principals.  Political activism is not a substitute for academic integrity. It’s time to return our schools to their primary mission — education. Otherwise, our young people, and society, will lose.