ROXBURY, NJ – The administrators of Roxbury High School and the Eisenhower Middle School are allowing students to participate in a 17-minute “walkout” at 10 a.m. tomorrow, an event billed by the organizers as a way for students to express concern about school safety.
The walkout comes a month after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Roxbury students are joining those from schools across the nation in the “#ENOUGH! National School Walkout to End Gun Violence.”
The walkouts are encouraged by a group called Women’s March Youth EMPOWER which is “calling for students, teachers, school administrators, parents and allies to … to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.”
The organization wants Congress to ban assault (style) weapons and high-capacity magazines, expand background checks to all gun sales, pass a gun violence restraining order law and stop “militarizing” law enforcement, according to its website. “We are not safe at school,” says the group. “We are not safe in our cities and towns.”
Roxbury Police Chief Marc Palanchi, Roxbury Schools Safety Director James Simonetti and school administrators “met to make plans to accommodate the students' request to support the victims” of the Parkland shooting, said Roxbury Schools Superintendent Loretta Radulic. “We view it as a teachable moment and do not endorse any political stance.”
Radulic said Roxbury High School Principal Jeffrey Swanson and Eisenhower Middle School Principal Dominick Miller “will be sending out a Honeywell (message) to inform parents” about the walkout, Radulic said. “Additionally, they have a statement prepared for the students on the morning of March 14th.”
The walkout idea is not receiving universal approval in Roxbury. Among those questioning the event is Fran Day, a member of the Roxbury-Mount Arlington Consolidation Study Commission. During a recent joint meeting of the board and the Roxbury Mayor and Council relating to school safety, Day, who once ran for election to the Roxbury School Board, questioned the school board about the walkout.
She said the protest has the potential of being disruptive and distracting. It might send a bad message, Day suggested. "If students want to protest the food in the cafeteria, are you going to allow that?" she asked.
In an interview, Day said she remains concerned about the safety an organized, publicized walkout during school hours. “While I agree with students’ right to protest, if we are talking about safety, well if I was a lunatic, what better way to get my point across? You want to take my gun? I’ll shoot you.”
Day contended she's aware of some students whose parents are not supporting the idea. She said she is also concerned about peer pressure on students who don’t want to join in the march.
“There’s a lot of pressure (on students) to go to this,” Day said. “I have a friend whose son hunts. He’s a law-abiding citizen. His mother told him, ‘You’re not leaving the school.’ He said, ‘But mom, I’m going to be the only one.’ She said, ‘You’re staying in school.’”
One of the Roxbury High School students who organized the walkout said all entrances to the parking lot will be blocked. “There will be police on campus to make sure that no one can get in the school that shouldn't be there and to keep the peace between students (though I don't think that will be an issue),” said the student.
The student also insisted the walkout “is a completely bipartisan” event “and it's not calling for any specific legislation. It's not anti- OR pro- gun. It's pro-safety. It will serve to honor those students who have lost their lives at school shootings.”
As for peer pressure, the student said, “I don't know if those who don't walk out will be ostracized, or if those who do walk out will be ostracized. Teenagers will be teenagers, and as much as I think that everyone should be entitled to their own opinion, we can't really control how other students will treat each other as a result of the walkout.”
The student said the event organizers “will not treat anyone differently if they choose not to walk out, and teachers certainly won't either. We also hope that since this is a national movement, it will draw enough attention to the issue to make Congress have a discussion and create legislation that will ensure student safety. I honestly think that any student that doesn't walk out because they support the second amendment may not fully understand this goal of the movement.”
The press will not be permitted on school grounds before, during or immediately after the protest, said Radulic. “This is a safety precaution,” Radulic said in an email. “We hope you will understand and be respectful of our wishes. There will be police presence.”