SPRINGFIELD, NJ - For well over an hour students and parents addressed the Board of Education on what they felt were missed opportunities to be part of a national movement on March 14th protesting gun violence. The Administration was not allowing the students to walk out of the building to protest.
A student from FMG stated she was “upset and disappointed that we didn't have a walkout. There were many other middle schools in surrounding towns such as South Orange, Maplewood and Summit that were allowed to walk out.”
Katherine Miller a student council member in the junior class at Jonathan Dayton said, “I walked out with over a hundred students." She stated that many of the students who walked out were honor students and student leaders and noted that those who walked out will have detention this Friday. Katherine stated, “I will wear my detention as a badge of honor. The people who did nothing after Sandy Hook are still in office. The people who did nothing about Orlando are still in office. The people who did nothing about Las Vegas are still in office. The adults are complicit. It is time for the teenagers to do something.”
Zoe Frei, President of Student Council at Jonathan Dayton testified that she was "...sorry for those students that couldn't join us because they were dissuaded by the punishment we were all threatened with. It was not fair to the members of the sports teams and others who participate in programs could not express their opinions because of this punishment.”
A middle school student who was home doing her math homework had a poem she wrote read by her mother to express her anger and frustration. “Today my rights were denied. Today my voice was silenced. Today my thirst for change is unquenched, and I lied in parched silence. Today I missed a chance of a lifetime. Today, a national movement passed me by I am angry and confused …Today will remain a broken promise.”
The Superintendent responded with his concerns for their safety, letting them exit the school on a nationally advertised event. Mr. Davino told the audience that there was information that he and Chief Cook had that raised their concern. He had a big fight with his own daughter about not letting the students exit the school. He said, “In conversations with the Chief there was confidential information from the Prosecutor’s office and from Homeland Security. We were given advanced notice and and it raised our concern. There were other incidences in our community that raised my level of concern further and further and further. What is the acceptable number, of children to be hurt, one kid two kids?”
Davino finished with this statement, “There are a dozen ways to convey your message…I am not going to gamble with even a minuscule chance that you will be hurt.”
Board member Robin Cornelison asked the Chief to explain his concern. Chief Cook said, "My major concern was that it was a nationally advertised event. I understand the mindset of an active shooter. My concern as a law enforcement officer is that people want to become infamous that day." Chief Cook shared his concern that Springfield is a prime target. He said, "We are close to Route 24 and I-78. We have trees and bushes surrounding the back parking lot."
“We utilized all the resources we had that day. We secured the building the best we could. Every school was covered by an officer.” He added that since Parkland there have been other active shooter events. Another factor he told the audience was that in New Jersey there were over 200 suspicious activity reports based on this type of event. Union County had the highest number of reported suspicious activity events. He said, "I actually look at that as a positive It means people are paying attention and reporting.”
The Chief concluded with “You all mean something to me, you are not just faces.”
School Board member Kristy Rubin summed it up by saying to those assembled, “I am personally proud of all of you. I’m very sad that fear made this decision.”
Scott Silverstein, Board President, reported that the three elementary schools were involved by writing letters to the first responders. A video was played at the High School commemorating the lives lost at Parkland. It was well received and can be viewed through a link on the School website. A general feeling from the meeting was that compromise can be difficult. The interruption of the nor'easter and ensuing power outages complicated the planning process and it was a learning process for all despite the difficulties.