SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ - On Wednesday, March 14, the Women’s March Youth EMPOWER is organizing a National School Walkout. According to the national march website, the walkout is for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. "to protest Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods... and to demand Congress pass legislation to keep us safe from gun violence at our schools, on our streets and in our homes and places of worship."

In the South Orange Maplewood School District (SOMSD), plans vary from school to school, with student-led walkouts planned at South Orange and Maplewood Middle Schools and Columbia High School, according to Suzanne Turner, SOMSD Director of Strategic Communications.

Students participating in the middle school and high school walkouts will be allowed to go outside of their school buildings, but must stay on campus for safety reasons, which were created based on consultation with the Maplewood and South Orange police departments, according to Turner.

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Two SOMSD elementary schools, Montrose Early Childhood Center and Marshall Elementary School, will not be participating on March 14, because of the young ages of the students, stated Turner.

A third elementary school, Jefferson, is not participating because there is already a school-wide event with an artist-in-residence happening on Wednesday, said Turner.

The other SOMSD elementary schools - Clinton, Seth Boyden and South Mountain - are all having activities on Wednesday that are connected to "work they've already been doing around inclusion and belonging, and making sure everyone feels valued and welcomed," stated Turner. 

An email on Friday, March 9, from Alyna Jacobs, Principal of South Mountain School, outlined the school's plans for Wednesday. The email from Jacobs stated: "we will not participate in a walk out, but we will begin our day with an indoor line up, and then all second - fifth graders will start the day together with a morning meeting and take part in a school wide handshake as an extension of the Week of Hello and a sign of togetherness and belongingness. During this meeting, we will not be discussing gun violence or school shootings."

All of the walk-out events planned for March 14 are supported by the schools and the district, and students who choose to participate will not be marked absent or disciplined, stated a prior email from the school district. If any students choose not to participate, their choice will be respected and appropriate adult supervision will be provided, the email stated as well.

For safety reasons, no parents, guardians or other adults will be permitted to participate in any of the school-based events on Wednesday, stated Turner.

"We want to honor the purpose of the walkouts and give our students the chance to express their feelings about it without putting them in danger," stated Turner, who also added that when Columbia High School students walked out last year in protest of Donald Trump's inauguration, the school supported the students with administrators walking with the students and police making sure they could cross streets safely.

"Our students have this sense of activism and social justice, and we want to support them in that," said Turner.

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