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Across New Jersey, Students 'Walk Out'

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Livingston students were peaceful at their walkout. Credits: Danielle Santola / TAPinto Livingston
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FLEMINGTON, NJ  — It’s been one month since the shootings at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 dead and another 17 injured.

“Our community is still grieving and healing,” said Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky.

“People will choose many different ways to acknowledge this day. Some will walk out, some will walk up, some will do both and some will do neither," she said. "Some will pray, attend vigils, meet with friends or choose to be alone. There is no right or wrong way to process what we have gone through.”

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Individual school’s responses to the walkouts on their campuses ranged from threatening to suspend students who participate, to full support.

Hundreds of Somerville High School students gathered outdoors on the track and observed a moment of silence after each victim was named and a short biography of each was read aloud.

Hasbrouck Heights High School students assembled around a flagpole and also read brief biographies, as a half-dozen parents and few local residents quietly watched the ceremony from the sidewalk.

In Livingston, students wanted make their voices heard and prove that “age is no obstacle to activism.” In Plainfield, several schools joined together and students marched outside.

New Providence school officials wouldn’t allow a protest during school hours, but about 200 of its high school and middle school students walked out anyway.

In Belmar, students marched in a playground that had been dedicated for a parallel purpose — to serve as a living memorial to 6-year-old Avielle Richman who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Wood-Ridge Junior-Senior High School students walked around the track for 17 minutes as the name of a Parkland victim who died in the shooting was read every minute.

Here in Hunterdon, North Hunterdon High School students were allowed to walk out of class at 10 a.m., said school district Communications Coordinator Maren Smagala.

Students were permitted to sit in the gym for 17 minutes, Smagala said, adding, “We're not allowing them to go outside" for safety reasons.

School staff was on hand in case they were needed for supervision, she said, but didn’t actively participate “because it's considered a political activity." Classes continued during the event.

North Hunterdon High School Principal Dr. Gregory Cottrell called its event “an opportunity for students to voice their opinions in the safe place of a school.”

Smagala said her district didn’t agree with those that said they’d discipline kids for walking out of class. “We want students to have a voice ... in a controlled environment,” she said. But she disagreed with those that allowed students to walk outside of their school.

“We see that as a security risk,” Smagala said.

Some schools encouraged their students to avoid speaking with the press, including Hunterdon Central High School and Westfield High School.

In Westfield, about 1,000 students from three of its schools gathered outside.

Hunterdon Central High School officials stated in an email that "our campus is closed to all visitors" for the day and did not return repeated phone calls and emails requesting further comment about its activities.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the Valentine’s Day shootings occurred, Superintendent Robert Runcie said, "Be a nuisance when it counts.

“Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics — but never give up.”

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