GLEN ROCK, NJ - On Wednesday, March 14, students at Glen Rock High School took part in a nation-wide initiative in recognition of the recent school shootings in Parkland, Fla. Organized by The Women’s March Youth Empower, the initiative encouraged students to walk out of class at 10 a.m. on the one-month anniversary of the deadly assault on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which seventeen students and staff were killed.

At GRHS, student leaders alerted the administration early on of their interest in participating. After careful consideration, the district determined that a school-wide assembly, focused on First Amendment rights, would be an appropriate lead into the student’s demonstration. At 9:15 a.m. on Wednesday, students were called to the school gymnasium, where members of the teaching staff discussed historical examples of citizens’ rights to free speech and peaceful assembly. The presentation concluded just before 10 a.m. at which time the students who chose to participate in the walkout moved from the building to the school’s football field track area.

There, student leaders opened the event with the singing of the National Anthem, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance. Two of the student organizers spoke to the crowd of high school students and staff about school violence, with a focus on the incident at Douglas. Seventeen white balloons were released as the names of the victims were read. Following a moment of silence, the speakers concluded with students being encouraged to register to vote and to take part in future similar events around the state and in Washington, D.C. The event concluded at 10:17 a.m. – the seventeen-minute timeframe predetermined in honor of the Parkland victims.

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According to Interim Superintendent Bruce Watson, “While we respect and support the rights of our students to take a position, we were extremely cautious about the execution of the walkout with regards to student and staff safety. We chose to make this a learning opportunity for our students through the in-school assembly, and utilized all district resources and the support of the Glen Rock Police Department to secure the campus for the student-led walkout.”

Added GRHS Principal John Arlotta, “It was also important to us that all students’ beliefs were respected, including those individuals who chose not to participate. Those students remained in the gym following the assembly until the other students returned. We are pleased with the outcome of today’s event and especially of how our students conducted themselves.”

While the decision was made earlier last week for students in Glen Rock Middle School - which shares the building with the high school - not to participate in the GRHS event, school administration provided the auditorium as a space for middle school students to gather.  At 10 a.m., students who chose to participate quietly left their classrooms and convened in the auditorium where a social studies teacher shared information about constitutional amendments, freedom of speech and the history of demonstrations. His comments were followed by a student-led event that included reading the names and a brief bio of the 17 victims, a moment of silence, and then personal comments on school violence and its impact on today’s school students.

Dr. Jennifer Wirt, principal of GRMS, stated, “I am proud of the way our students handled themselves today. They showed the utmost respect for the subject matter and each other. Their comments were sincere and demonstrated great maturity.”