NJ students walk out of ‘unsafe’ high school, want teacher reinstated
CHERRY HILL — Students walked out of high school Tuesday morning in protest of the suspension of a teacher who raised concerns about school safety.
Defying administrators who threatened students with suspension and canceling prom, hundreds of students demonstrated outside Cherry Hill High School East around 8 a.m., chanting "Free Mr. Locke."
Passing drivers honked in support. TV helicopters hovered over the athletic field where students gathered before returning to class.
The walkout was prompted by the suspension of history teacher Timothy Locke last week after he discussed his security concerns during one of his classes.
Locke told New Jersey 101.5 that he’s been advised by his attorney not to discuss the situation — but still said his comments were made out of love for students and that he would make them again.
District spokeswoman Barbara Wilson said the district would have a statement about the walkout later on Tuesday. The Board of Education was scheduled to have a public meeting Tuesday evening.
The demonstration comes amid heightened security at schools following the fatal mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and a rash of social media threats against New Jersey schools that in some cases have resulted in the arrest of students on charges of causing public alarm.
In Lakewood on Tuesday, the high school was placed on lockdown as a result of suspicious email sent to police "threatening harm," officials said. The superintendent said a student was arrested.
"It has been determined that no threat or harm exist at this time," Superintendent Laura Winters said in an email.
In Cherry Hill, students who talked to reporters Tuesday morning said they needed to walk in order to make their voices heard about lax security at the school with an enrollment of more than 2,000.
One student cited the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as an inspiration for their walkout because he used peaceful demonstration to make his concerns heard.
Rachel Wimmer told New Jersey 101.5 that the problem at the school is that “you can basically just walk in (and) nobody really checks you. There’s really no security at the front doors.”
She said after the recent school shooting rampage in Florida, “it makes us kind of scared that if someone were to walk in, or were to try and harm anybody in the school, there wouldn’t be any protection, anything can happen at any time.”
Wimmer said the school has two security guards, but they only carry pepper spray and a baton.
Students told New Jersey 101.5 they were warned as they exited they faced disciplinary action if they left school property. The cheerleading coach in a message told squad members who walked would not be allowed to cheer at Tuesday night's basketball game.