WEST ORANGE, NJ — Following a "walkout" demonstration organized and attended by hundreds of West Orange High School (WOHS) students at Suriano Stadium on Monday, the West Orange Education Association and Board of Education have announced a tentative agreement regarding healthcare benefits and salary increases.
According to an email sent to district teachers, “there are still a number of important issues to resolve, but a full settlement should happen soon.” The letter cited the issues of healthcare and salaries as the "largest and most important issues.”
This comes after a massive student-organized protest on Monday afternoon. Immediately following the common lunch, students, many of whom wore red in support of their teachers, filed out to the adjacent football stadium and stayed there for one class period to protest the stagnated contract disputes, which have left the two parties at a stalemate for more than two years. Dozens held signs expressing support for teachers as well and their dismay toward the lack of resolution and Superintendent Jeffrey Rutzky.
As the crowd assembled in the bleachers, several students took charge in leading chants demanding a contract settlement and disavowing Rutzky and the West Orange Board of Education. High school administrators and security guards gathered on the field across from students, but did not attempt to deter the assembly until the end of the period.
“I think that the event went amazingly well, and it displays the dedication that we have to our school and our beloved teachers,” said senior Josephine Kravits, who helped organize the walkout.
After the idea was proposed by fellow senior Morgan Minatee, Kravits, along with Jendaya McNeill and others, helped reach out to classmates. Seniors were notified about the planned event approximately a week earlier via texts sent out en masse by the girls, and word soon spread among students of all grades by word of mouth and postings on several social media outlets.
After the walkout, WOHS principal Hayden Moore said that he was “relieved and proud that [the] students followed directions and conducted themselves in a peaceful and civil manner.”
“I learned something about my students: that they are able to independently organize and advocate for what they believe in,” he said. “I do not condone students missing class; I commend our students for conducting an organized, peaceful protest.”
WOHS senior Cate Brown said that the demonstration “makes administration notice us, and reinforces that students care just as much about the teachers as anyone else does.”
“It just shows how united West Orange is, and how much we care about our teachers,” she said.
“It’s really impressive what a couple students can do,” said junior Tess Wagersre. “I just want our teachers to have a fair contract.”
Stating that he learned about the walkout over the weekend, Moore added that safety was his priority. He said deans, security, the school resource officer and administration met early Monday morning to initiate a plan.
“During the demonstration, we had security posted throughout the campus as well as circulating the campus in golf carts,” said Moore. “Administration, Deans and myself were on the Suriano Field ensuring that students sat safely in the bleachers and conducted themselves in a respectful manner.”
The protest lasted for one class period, which is 55 minutes long. Toward the end of that period, Moore addressed the students and asked them to return to class as peacefully and as respectfully as they entered the demonstration.
“They were able to accomplish their goal in a civil, organized and peaceful manner. Students did not use vulgarity or profanity in any manner,” said Moore. “They exercised their right to protest in a respectful manner.”
This article was written by WOHS students Peyton Smith and Austin Bartola, Editors-in-Chief of “The Pioneer,” the school’s newspaper. Photos were also provided by these students.