Walkouts Wednesday at schools throughout NJ — only some allow it
TRENTON — Students at several schools throughout New Jersey schools are participating in Wednesday's National School Walkouts — prompting vastly different responses from their districts.
More than 2,800 schools around the country are expected to see walkouts at 10 a.m. to mark the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, according to organizers of the national effort. A 17-minute moment of silence — one minute for each victim — follows.
"We are walking out for ALL people who have experienced gun violence, including systemic forms of gun violence that disproportionately impact teens in Black and Brown communities," according to the event's organizer, Women's March Youth Empower.
Students have made their schools a part of the walkout by signing up at the event website. Valerie Millering, 18, organized the walkout at Matawan Regional High School and met with principal Michele Ruscavage about allowing students to participate.
"I was told the school can't be behind it for multiple reasons, but they won't punish any kid that walks out and follows instructions," the senior said, adding that students will have to make up any missed work. She expects about 200 students to join the walkout. Just over 1,000 students from Matawan and Aberdeen attend the Monmouth County school.
Millering was inspired to get her school involved because she sensed an interest by other students and was concerned even before Parkland about school shootings.
"Parkland was the biggest one in a while. It was just so moving to see the students there putting their trauma into making changes in America's gun laws," she said.
Tara Jenkins of Hamilton was concerned that her 17-year-old son was being forced into participating at the Mercer County Vocational School’s Assunpink Center in Hamilton. She told New Jersey 101.5 that there was a fire drill scheduled at 9:55 a.m., and that he must participate.
She said instead of taking the usual route for a fire drill students would be walking around a lake holding signs.
"My son, who does not want to participate, has nowhere else to go except the walkout. If he goes in any other direction he faces repercussions, which I believe is a three-day suspension," Jenkins said. He may make his own sign in support of the NRA and gun owners rights, she said.
Community Liason Lori Perlow said the "non-fire evacuation on the same day will not coincide with the peaceful walkout," but would not disclose the scheduled time for the drill.
"Students may opt to participate in a peaceful walkout under the supervision of staff and the local police department. Student council members are preparing a banner stating 'Our Voices Matter,' which students can add individual notes to if they choose to as a way to express themselves. Students who do not wish to participate will remain inside the building," Perlow said in an email.
The Sayreville district is not supporting the walkout and has threatened to punish students who participate with a two-day suspension.
In response, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union denounced the district's "heavy-handed approach," pointing out that the district's code of conduct only calls for Saturday detention for walking out of school without authorization.
Some other schools, while allowing the walkout, are putting their own conditions on the event:
After students walked out of school on the one-week anniversary of the shooting, superintendent Karen Wood was concerned about the safety of a well-publicized event involving student outside the school. She worked with administrators and students to promote a "Walk Up, Not Out" program. The names of all 17 victims of the Parkland shooting will be read, but student will be encouraged to engage in 17 acts of kindness rather than protest.
Messages being spread on social media encouraging the "Walk Up, Not Out" response encourage students to "walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite him to your group; walk up to the kid who sits quietly in the corner of the room and sit next to her, smile and say 'Hi.' Walk up to someone who has different views than you and get to know them."
Wood said students will also utilize social media to spread their message with #BarnegatStrong and #WalkUpNotOut.
"We are very proud of our students and we will continue to enthusiastically support our student efforts that compliment lessons of social equality that our teachers work to instill," Wood said. Students who want to walk out, however, will be able to, with Barnegat Police nearby.
Students will be allowed to participate in walkouts after student leaders rejected alternative ideas such as speaking at lunch, according to a letter from principal Mark Morrell to parents obtained by TAP into Bridgewater. But there will be consequences for those who miss work.
Morrell said teachers will remain in classrooms and continue with their scheduled classes. Bridgewater Police will present for the walkout.
"Walkout participants will receive no credit for any work missed, including tests, quizzes and other classwork. In addition, students who miss more than half the class (20 minutes), will be assigned a cut of class as discussed in the student handbook," Morrell wrote.
Freehold Regional School District:
The six high schools in the district (Colts Neck, Freehold, Freehold Township, Howell, Manalapan and Marlboro) will each allow students to walk out at 10 a.m., and to participate in "actions that provide opportunities for positive civic engagement and to amplify students," according to a letter from superintendent Charles B. Sampson.
Superintendent Danny A. Robertozz in a statement said the district supports its students' right to free speech, and encourages them to speak out on issues they feel strongly about. Linden High School's 1,600 students will be allowed to walk out at 10 a.m. and hold a sit-in within the school's hallways.
“If they decide to exercise these rights peacefully and responsibly, we will support them in any way we can. Our only concern is to make sure they are safe while they make their voices heard,” Robertozz said.
"Students will will not be required to nor denied the opportunity to peacefully participate" in Wednesday's walkout, superintendent David Healy said in a statement.
Healy said administrators met with students and police working to make sure the walkout takes place in an area away from public view in accordance with protocol set by the NJ School Boards Association.
Students will line the walls of Wall Township High School on Wednesday for their "Stand Up United" activity.
"On March 14, put your stop reading, put your pencil down, stand up and unite in the hallway and join hands show that Wall High learns in an environment free of violence," a student promoting the event said in a video.
Superintendent Cheryl Dyer told the Asbury Park Press students came up with the idea to remain safe within the confines of the school and still take a stand.
Age-appropriate activities are planned for district schools on Wednesday. Elementary school students will wear school colors and a message of kindness and peace.
Middle school students may wear orange, a color of school violence prevention, or black and assemble in a designated area to mark the walkout. High school students may wear black and after the walkout on the respective football fields will hear speeches about taking action and working with politicians.