SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The 67 South Plainfield High School students who participated in the March 14 walkout will have the choice of either serving one in-school suspension (ISS) or a Saturday detention, according to the district’s superintendent. Neither infraction, however, will be included on one's permanent record.

“I have decided to amend the one-day suspension…” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Noreen Lishak at a scheduled board of education meeting the day after the walkout.

In the days leading up to the walkout, students told TAPinto South Plainfield that they were told that by participating they risked the chance of being kicked out of athletic teams and/or National Honor Society along with the eligibility for local scholarships. While that was not the case, those who did walkout were subject, in accordance with the student handbook, to ISS, a derogatory mark that stays on their permanent record.

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While the ISS still stands, to some degree, the district on Thursday night announced it would amend the disciplinary action. Students will have two options: serve the ISS and have a parent submit a letter to the superintendent requesting it be removed from their record; having the ISS removed from the record, said Lishak, will ‘allow students to apply for scholarships beginning in early April.’

Option two would require a student to attend a Saturday morning detention. The detention, however, would not be removed from a student’s record since ‘it does not affect scholarship opportunities.’

As of press time, it was stated that the ISS would have to be served prior to March 30. The Saturday detention would be held on a date to be determined and run from 8 to 11 a.m. "Although I do not agree on the logistics and consequences of the walkout, I have to take the time to commend these students for their strong commitment to the cause,” Lishak said, adding that prior to the walkout, students were informed of the consequences associated with leaving the school building but ‘held strong to their convictions.’

The superintendent, however, stated while an exception would be made this time, 'an option on disciplinary consequences will not exist again’ for any student who leaves the building without the administration’s permission.

“Your choices are yours to make and the consequences are also yours. Discipline will be administered as listed in the handbook; it will be up to you, and your parents, to discuss all, if any effects, your choices will have on you as a student,” said Lishak.

The March 14 Women’s March Youth EMPOWER National “March for Our Lives’ Student Walkout was organized in an effort to raise awareness of the need for gun reform in the United States. 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.

At exactly 10 a.m. SPHS students walked out of the school building and headed up Lake Street. Chants of ‘We are Students, We are Change’ and ‘We Stand with Stoneman Douglas’ were heard as the students marched, many carrying signs in support of gun reform, to the middle school and back.

Those SPHS students who did not wish to walkout had the option of attending their regularly scheduled class or attending a special 10 a.m. assembly featuring a video montage honoring the Parkland victims. The video, which can be viewed online at https://livestream.com/spboe/events/8110237/videos/17156585 and was also shown at the start of Thursday night’s BOE meeting, was produced and edited through Tiger TV.

Doug Chapman, vice president of the South Plainfield BOE, extended congratulations 'on a job well done' to those who put the video montage together calling it 'very thoughtful and a heartfelt tribute they should be very proud of.'

During the public comments portion of the meeting, Kim LaCross, the mother of a SPHS sophomore, said she feels this movement by the students was bigger than the 17 victims tragically killed last month and told the BOE that the district ‘needs to recognize that better.’ 

According to LaCross, ‘commending the students for the way they carry themselves and being full of pride for their conviction but then punishing them, sends a mixed message and that the district needs to take 'better advantage of these teachable moments.' 

“I am pleased with the modifications [made by Dr. Lishak] but I feel we need to do more…” LaCross said. “We want to raise future leaders. This was a monumental moment…it was not about cutting class." 

Barbara Cantamessa, the mother of a SPHS sophomore, also expressed that she was disappointed that the district didn't come together and support the students and their efforts. “We need to support our students and let them have a voice and not penalize them. This could have been handled differently…” said Cantamessa.

“We have to have consequences. We cannot let them go out every single time there is an issue. We are a school, we have to teach, we have safety issues. So there have to be consequences and they knew that,” said Diane Joffe, a teacher at SPHS and president of the South Plainfield Education Association.

All rules aside, however, Joffe said she was ‘in awe’ of those students who despite the consequences, stuck to their ‘beliefs and convictions.’

Margarita Jimenez, the mother of a SPHS junior who walked out, felt the superintendent’s decision to amend the disciplinary consequences put many parents’ ‘anxiety to ease.’

Georgia Lambert said her daughter, a 10th grader, put aside her fears of disciplinary action to walkout for something she believed in. “I want to thank you for making the modifications and I understand your concerns that you do not want them to be out there protesting every little thing, but this was a movement across the entire country,” said Lambert.

While she is proud of all the kids – those who took a stand and walked out and those who watched the video tribute – Lambert feels ‘the only way to bring that message across is to not silence them to the auditorium where no one can see them but to let them go outside and have a voice...’

“These kids are passionate, intelligent, driven, and will be or are already 18. This is just a stepping stone in what they will do in the future when they can vote and make the necessary changes at the polls,” Jimenez said, adding, “All of our kids were courageous and they knew the consequences…They were able to accomplish something and have a voice.”

“Our kids are being talked about on social media pages, they are being called stupid…it is totally inappropriate. Instead of praising them for what they did, they are being called names; their parents are being called names,” said Lambert. “We are a small community where everybody knows everybody...It is very, very sad.”

Joffe added, “I was never so proud of your children…they did well, were organized, mature. They knew what they were doing. Whoever said on social media that these kids are ‘stupid’ has no idea what they are talking about...”

"Those who chose to walk out of the schools as an expression of their desire to improve gun control, knowing that [they]  faced consequences but personally thought the cost was worth [it], had courage and demonstrated [their] true dedication to the cause," said Chapman. “Those who chose to attend the assembly, your decision was no less important or less noticed. There are many different ways in this world to stand up for what you believe in…”

The BOE vice president continued, "Never be afraid to express your opinions, but always weigh the options, opportunities and consequences. That’s how life works."

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