MAPLEWOOD, NJ - More than 200 students from Columbia High School (CHS) participated in a protest on Friday morning, one of many school walkouts planned nationwide to mark the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School school shooting, and to advocate for gun violence prevention legislation.
Students begin exiting the CHS building at about 10 a.m., with student leaders, who were wearing orange, speaking through a megaphone and leading the crowd with chants of "Enough of Enough" and "This is what democracy looks like."
The students were asked by organizers to lie down on the front lawn of CHS for a "die-in" protest. As students were lying down organizers chanted to the crowd, "Lie down" and "How much are you worth to the NRA?"
Students, mostly lying down, but some sitting and standing, continued the die-in protest to about 10:25 a.m., when organizers announced they would march to Maplewood Town Hall.
As the demands were read, the crowd chanted in response, "we the students" before each demand was read. Demands included recognizing that "mental health is not thought of as the main cause of gun violence," and that "guns are the problem."
"We will be the generation to end gun violence," said one of the speakers at the rally to cheers from the crowd.
Throughout the march from CHS to town hall, and back to CHS, Maplewood police blocked off streets, directed traffic, and generally kept the streets clear of vehicles while the students were walking.
After the rally at town hall, some students returned directly to the high school, while others continued to march through Maplewood before returning to school grounds around 11:15 a.m.
On Thursday, the South Orange Maplewood School District (SOMSD) sent an email to the school community stating that Friday would be a "regular school day" and that students "not present due to participation in the protest will be marked as an unexcused absence."
An email from Elizabeth Aaron, CHS principal, was sent at about 1:30 p.m. on Friday, confirming, "as the Superintendent noted yesterday, attendance for classes still counted today. Students who were not present in class due to participation in the protest have been marked with an unexcused absence."
Aaron's email also provided support for those students who participated in the protest, writing, "we are proud to see our students making their voices heard about one of the most urgent issues of our time, and appreciate your partnership as we work together to keep CHS safe and secure." Read Aaron's full email here.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article has been updated to include information from the CHS principal.