SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The possibility of academic repercussions did not stop South Plainfield High School (SPHS) students from taking part in the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER National “March for Our Lives’ Student Walkout to raise awareness of the need for gun reform in the United States.
At exactly 10 a.m. March 14, approximately 75 SPHS students many carrying signs and wearing orange – the color that represents gun violence awareness – walked out of the school building and headed up Lake Street. Chanting ‘We are Students, We are Change’ they made their way toward Plainfield Avenue to the middle school before heading back to the high school and returning to class. For student safety, more than a dozen members of the South Plainfield Police Department were present at the school and along the route.
Held on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, FL school shooting, the protest lasted just about 17 minutes – one minute for each of the victims killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
“The walkout serves as an act of civil disobedience to spur political change for the generations of the future,” said SPHS senior Hailey Medina who, along with classmates Tala Abdeljaber, Simran Modhera, and Jade Scotti, organized the walkout.
"We support and stand with Stoneman Douglas. Let's not forget the lives lost from other shootings, such as Columbine, Newtown, Viriginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and so many others," Medina said, adding that '268 human lives may have been saved if stricter gun laws were in place.' "We are a nation united; we are the next generation of voters and politicians; we are the future. Let's let our voices be heard and not undermined by ignorant minds. Students that stand united will never be divided."
SPHS junior Maggy Mogollon added, “I chose to participate in the walk out simply because strict gun control needs to happen. My mom has always taught me that if you don't stand for something you fall for everything and that has always made me aware."
“This is their second home and they need to feel safe and they don’t,” said a South Plainfield mom with both a freshman and a senior who took part in the walkout. “I stand behind them 100-percent.”
“I stand behind my daughter and support what she believes,” said another parent who came out to show his support.
In the days leading up to the walkout, rumors circulated that students who took part could be kicked out of the National Honor Society and/or athletics as well as risk the chance of securing local scholarships and/or student of the month recognition. In a 9 a.m. post on the #sphswalkout Instagram page, however, students confirmed the aforementioned wasn't true and later told TAPinto that both the school's principal and the district superintendent had confirmed that the consequences associated with the walkout would be the same as those imposed upon a student who cut a class.
Additionally, in a March 13 letter sent to parents and guardians, SPHS Principal Ronnie Spring stated ‘any student that engages in an activity that disrupts other students’ learning, puts students or others safety at risk, cuts class or leaves the building will receive an appropriate consequence as outlined in the student handbook.’ According to the South Plainfield School District’s 2017-2018 Student/Parent Handbook, students with ‘an unauthorized absence from class' would be subject to a required in school suspension (ISS).
“I accept that there are consequences for walking out. It’s worth it for them to do something they believe in,” said one of the moms who gathered on Lake Street to support her children during Wednesday’s walkout.
“I expect fair punishment, not double punishment,” said a dad who also attended.
According to Mogollon, many students who planned to participate in the walkout didn't for fear of being 'penalized for their peaceful protest.' "It was great to see that some of us, regardless of ISS, still cared enough and it meant something," she said.
Those SPHS students who did not wish to participate in the walkout also had the opportunity to honor the victims of the Parkland shooting during a special assembly. At 10 a.m., a video montage honoring the victims was presented in the auditorium; each victim was honored by a one-minute video biography produced and edited through Tiger TV. The video can be viewed at https://livestream.com/spboe/events/8110237/videos/171565855.
Seniors were also provided the opportunity to complete voter registration forms and, throughout the day, social studies classes focused how to play a role in ‘creating positive change in the political process’ through according to Spring, discussion on the ‘importance of engaging in the process through voting, running for office, supporting a candidate, lobbying, or any other means of political engagement to foster change, regardless of one’s particular position on a specific issue.’
In his letter, Spring goes on to state that the goal was to ‘use ‘March 14th as a meaningful and teachable moment that focuses on honoring the memory of the seventeen victims of the Parkland shooting’ and that ‘SPHS will continue to support our students in working to create positive change and engaging in meaningful and school appropriate activities.’
“Being a part of the national movement is very important to the student body and we would like to exercise our right to stand up for what we believe in,” said Medina, adding that for those who participated, standing up for what they believe the ramifications.
“We understand the consequences and are still adamant about being catalysts for change because something needs to be done in order to keep our schools safe,” said Medina.
Mogollon added, "I feel it was a successful walkout. We did it to make a positive impact and because we feel our voices matter. One person can be the change in the world and if I was able to walk out for just 17 minutes to support what I believe in and be heard that is enough. I will take the ISS any day."
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