Cherry Hill teens, parents — Nothing would stop a shooter here
CHERRY HILL — At least 200 students and parents attended Tuesday night’s Cherry Hill Board of Education meeting, with many voicing concerns about school security and what they perceive to be a lack of response by education officials to make sure students are kept safe.
Many students who spoke to the board also called for history teacher Timothy Locke to be reinstated. Locke has said he was suspended last week for expressing concerns about school safety after the school shooting rampage in Parkland, Florida. The suspension and worries about security prompted a school walkout, an assembly and meetings with parents.
Students repeatedly blasted Cherry Hill East Principal Dennis Perry for, they said, making threats and not listening to them.
Perry — who some students say told the teen they’d face suspension on Monday for protesting the security situation and Locke's removal — posted a letter on the Cherry Hill East High School website saying he’s proud of the students and the manner in which they had conducted themselves.
In the letter, he also said while he wants to hear student concerns, it is his responsibility to help students channel their concerns and have a voice “in an appropriate way.”
Perry said he is formally retracting a threat he made to ban protesting students from participating in the senior trip, the senior prom and graduation ceremonies — and he welcomes the opportunity to work together for real change.
Neither Perry nor the communications liaison for the high school has returned calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Before students and parents were allowed to speak, the president of the Cherry Hill school board, Barry Dickinson, told those assembled when terrible tragedies take place, “solutions that often bubble to the surface include gun control, armed guards and metal detectors, but this is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction to the problem. School safety should be addressed in a deliberate, thoughtful process.”
Parents and students told New Jersey 101.5 it's easy for a person to gain access to the building — with no locked doors or security to stop someone intent on doing harm.
He said the board has been discussing security for months. He also told the crowd the removal of history teacher Timothy Locke is a human resource matter and cannot be addressed in public.
Dickinson said he believes everything being said by students and the media about Locke’s removal is not accurate, and “the social media protests, the student walkout and broadcast news stories are all reliant upon conjecture and rumor.”
After these comments were made, many students and parents expressed shock, surprise and anger.
When Dickinson said no questions would be taken by students or parents because “this was not a public meeting,” there were loud murmurs and grumbling from the crowd.
Cherry Hill parent Debra Janove said security is not adequate at the high school, and in light of the shooting rampage in Florida, the students are concerned and they need to be heard.
“They’re teenagers. They don’t need to be worried about their safety at school. They need to be worried about getting good grades, what college they’re going into, the SATs — these are the things that normal teenagers should worry about," Janove said.
She said the time has come for the school board to “put our children and, quite frankly, us as parents at ease, and let us know what they’re going to do, tangible things. Don’t give us, 'We’re going to have a meeting.'”
“We’re all quite frankly not really thrilled with being listened to anymore," she said. "We want action. We want to know they really have our back and are doing things, not having meeting after meeting after meeting.”
She said it’s time for the board to stop talking and do something concrete.
Twelfth-grader Hannah Dubois said student concerns about security are not taken seriously.
“They do a good job telling us they listen, but I don’t think they actually listen — so yes, I think they need to do a better job of listening," she said.
Freshman Riley Johnson said students have the right to not worry about being shot in school.
“I don’t think any of the students believe we’re being heard. We need to get our message our message across, and it needs to be heard by more people than just this town, everyone needs to hear it," Johnson said.
She added “the schools need to have more safety, and I think they need to show that they’re going to do something and not just say that they will. They need to put their words into action.”
Tenth-grader Liam Reilly shook his head in agreement.
He said students want to engage in a real conversation about things they care about “such as our security, because we’re the ones going to school. We’re the ones going in fear, and if our fears and our concerns aren’t being addressed, then school isn’t safe.”
“I think that they’re doing what they always do ,which is nodding their head, and they’re pretending that they’re listening, and then they’re going to wait until this blows over and just not do anything," 10th-grader Kristen Furlow said. "I want people to keep protesting so something gets done."
She said “it’s a matter of life and death now."
“Anybody can walk into our school. There’s nothing stopping them, nothing stopping them from bringing in a gun," she said.
Mayor Chuck Cahn, who attended the meeting, issued a statement saying school security is an issue that “requires immediate action.”
Police Chief William Monaghan has recommended stationing armed police officers at schools within the district, he noted.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com.
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