WEST ORANGE, NJ — Hundreds of West Orange High School (WOHS) students participated in a peaceful walkout Wednesday afternoon in support of their fellow classmates in South Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people last week.
“They want to see change [in gun control],” said WOHS Principal Hayden Moore, who was present during the impromptu student-organized walkout. “It speaks volumes about how they feel...It’s also important to me that there is no violence here.”
During the 30-minute protest, about 200 students walked out of class and were directed by staff to the football field stands. Moore said students anonymously alerted administration to the walkout and that allowed him to help provide a safe environment for the students to participate.
“Everyday when we walk around, when we walk home, we are afraid something is going to happen to us,” said Sophia Torres, 17, who helped to organize the walkout. “Kids all across America, even college kids, we are all scared. You genuinely don’t know when or where [a shooting] going to happen and it’s not okay.”
Student leaders spoke on a bullhorn to the crowd about upcoming national walkout events related to the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. The names of the 17 Parkland, FL victims were read aloud and a moment of silence was observed, Moore said.
Afterward, students were sent back to class. Moore said there were “zero problems.”
“The walkout was very classy and safe,” Moore said. “It was a nice learning experience.”
Torres and three other students, Daniella Rodriguez, 16, Desiree Rivera, 17, and Alexandra Fiore, 17, plan to get their school and classmates involved in a nation-wide walkout slated for April 20, which will be the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado.
The foursome hopes to bring more awareness about social and political issues impacting their peers.
Locally and across the country, schools and communities are grappling with what to do next amid cries for more gun control.
The West Orange Board of Education and the West Orange Police Department will host a public meeting on Feb. 28 to address safety and security in the schools, according to a Facebook event post created by the school district.
The meeting will be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the WOHS auditorium.
“I think the superintendent (Jeff Rutzky) and I are in agreement that we can always do better,” said Jeff Abbott, chief of police, about the upcoming meeting. “We want to reassure parents that we are prepared for the worst-case scenario.”