Education

Newark schools prepare for National School Walkout

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Newark, NJ—In anticipation of Wednesday’s National School Walkout to protest gun violence in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Newark Public Schools is preparing its students to participate in the nationwide event and has created a series of programs to highlight the issues of gun violence and activism.

Students across the country are planning to walk out of their classrooms Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. for a protest that is expected to last 17 minutes—a minute for each life lost in the Parkland school shooting.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, has been charged with entering Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, and firing upon students and teachers in what was to become of the nation’s deadliest school massacres. Seventeen people were killed and seventeen more wounded.

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The incident has sparked conversations around gun violence across the globe and has prompted calls for stricter gun laws, particularly from the nation’s youth, who have been at the forefront of the debate since the shooting.

Inspired by movements such as the #MeToo movement and the recent Women's March, student survivors have organized around the issue of gun violence with the launch of "Never Again MSD," a group that advocates for tighter regulations to prevent gun violence.

The group has staged rallies demanding legislative action and has condemned lawmakers who have received political contributions from the National Rifle Association.

“Parkland students have asked their peers across the country to participate in a 17-minute walkout to mourn those lost and to advocate against future gun violence," Interim Superintendent of Newark Public Schools Robert Gregory said in a recent letter to district parents. “We will use this opportunity to support our students’ right to make their voices heard, to make this experience a teachable moment, and to make sure that this takes place in an orderly and safe fashion.”

District high school and middle school students will meet outside their schools at 10 a.m. and observe 17 minutes of silence to commemorate the victims of last month’s shooting.

Beginning March 21 through April 25, Newark Public Schools—in partnership with the mayor’s office—will be holding professional development on school safety protocols across the district.

The training will provide staff with essential information to ensure district schools are prepared to keep students safe and will touch on a variety of topics including guidance for active shooter drills, updated evacuation protocols and emergency information for educators.

On March 24, the Newark community will be participating in “March For Our Lives,” where student leaders—supported by the district and school board members—will work to organize their peers and other community members to participate in the event.

A series of nationwide "March for Our Lives" demonstrations is planned for March 24 and will include a march in Washington, D.C.

On April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School Shooting, all-day walkouts are planned for teacher and student groups across the country.

Earlier this month, the Florida Legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which raises the minimum age for buying rifles to 21, establishes waiting periods and background checks, provides a program for the arming of some school employees and hiring of school police, bans bump stocks and bars some potentially violent or mentally ill people arrested under certain laws from possessing guns.

On March 9—the day Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law—the National Rifle Association filed suit challenging the legislation, arguing that the ban on gun sales to those under 21 violates the rights of 18-21-year-olds under the Second and Fourth Amendments.

NPS School Board Chair Marques-Aquil-Lewis, who is also a member of civil rights organization National Action Network under the leadership of the Rev. Al Sharpton, lauded students for taking part in Wednesday's protest.

"I think this amazing and every single student should have their voice," Lewis said. "I believe that we need to get our children more involved in social and political issues in this country. We should make this a part of our curriculum. It's enough that we have number 45," he said, referring to President Donald J. Trump. "It's more important than ever to get involved."

NPS School Board Vice Chair Tave Padilla said participation in the event is indicative of the district's commitment to the safety of its students.

"An event like this shows solidarity across the country and something like this going on in Newark schools shows that we are paying attention. This is something we are very cautious about in the city," he said, noting that NPS high schools are outfitted with metal detectors and checkpoints at each entrance.

Gregory noted the district is committed to ensuring that Newark schools are responding in a way to improve safety in schools and to support students’ right to make their voices heard.

“Our goal was to jump in front of it and not be reactive to it,” Gregory said. “It also helps our students find their voice. We expect the bulk of our students will walk out and we encourage our students to do so.”

The specialized curriculum, entitled, “Students Learn about Activism and Advocacy: We all have the right to live free from fear and violence in our community,” is geared for middle and high school students and will run from March 12-16.

Students will have an opportunity to learn about youth protests from past and current events, will discuss how issues impact their communities, and will create posters, t-shirts, poetry and “silent protests” to set the tone for the week’s events

“No community should have to experience fear or gun violence like the students and families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School did,” Gregory said. "The safety of our students is of the utmost importance.”

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