NJ students face discipline over walkout participation
SAYREVILLE — The New Jersey chapter of the ACLU said it received a few “troubling” reports about students being disciplined for participating in Wednesday’s gun-violence walkout.
"Most of the reports we've had regarding the walkout have been positive and inspirational. So many schools embraced the moment and showed support for their student's engagement, " Elyla Huertas, the group's intake attorney told New Jersey 101.5.
"We did receive some troubling reports about schools punishing students for participating. It's hard to say exactly how many students because we're hearing from parents who have been warned that their children will receive notice of their punishment but haven't received that notice yet."
Huertas would not disclose the names of specific schools that had been brought to their attention.
The ACLU warned schools before Wednesday's National School Walkout that the civil liberties group would become involved if a student were punished more harshly for taking a stand on a political issue. The group called attention to Sayreville War Memorial High School where students had been threatened with a two-day suspension.
During the National School Walkout, students remembered the victims of the shooting a month ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Superintendent Stephen Yurchak in a message on the school website said that 45 students who walked from North Arlington HS were considered to have cut class and would be penalized, possibly with a detention.
The school did have a sanctioned event indoors.
Sayreville sophomore Rosa Rodriguez received media attention for walking to the edge of Washington Road in front of the school. She appeared to be the only student who walked but Nicole Chavan-Thomas posted on Facebook that her daughter, Sierra, a freshman, also took part and walked with about 10 other people to the football field.
Chavan-Thomas said she had not discussed the shooting in Parkland, Florida, or the issue of gun violence with her daughter. When her daughter expressed interest in participating, she asked her to explain why.
"She expressed to me very valid concerns and very strong beliefs regarding this issue, and I felt confident that she knew what she was talking about. As a parent I believe it is our job to prepare our kids to be out in the world, therefore, if an issue concerns my child as a teenager, I'm going to take it seriously," she told New Jersey 101.5.
Sierra made fliers with the First Amendment to hand out to classmates who walked with her.
Nicole said that she had not yet received word about suspensions but said everyone had to give their name to administrators.
"From what I understand, there were more kids who wanted to walk but they didn't want to get in trouble or take the risk," NIcole said. She said the school did not offer any alternative to the walkout and students who tried to gather inside in the cafeteria were told they would get detention.
"They should have organized something where the kids could get out their frustration and opinions or even just talk about it," Nicole said.
At the school board meeting of Feb. 20, Board President Kevin Ciak said allowing a walkout would mean allowing other walkouts in the future.
Ciak also said there is concern the attention the event would have put students at risk in a "politically charged" atmosphere.