Thousands of N.J. high school students leave class, protest funding cuts


Newark police try to contain hundreds of students from University High School as they march down Clinton Avenue chanting ‘Christie has to go.’ One officer estimated the crowd of students to be 500.Thousands of high school students across New Jersey walked out of classes today to protest education cuts proposed by Gov. Chris Christie.

The students, galvanized by the Facebook page where the protest was first organized, flooded school football fields, parking lots and bordering streets, wielding “Protect Educations” signs and chanting slogans defending their teachers.

According to the site, more than 16,000 students planned to leave school.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union, said the students are “engaging in civil disobedience” but shouldn’t walk out of classes.

“I think the best outcome would be for the students to be in school and find a way to protest outside of school hours,” said Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the organization.

Thousands of students filled the streets of Newark in protest of Christie’s budget cuts shortly before noon today as police struggled to corral them into Military Park.

The walkout was scheduled to start at 1 p.m., but when students at Weequahic High School walked out early, word spread like wildfire that the protest had begun.

“Phone calls, texts, Twitter, Facebook, everything,” said Shabazz senior Donald Jackson, 17 who was leading a march of fellow students down Broad street. “We’re protesting budget cuts, cuts in lunch, after school programs, it has to stop.”

Mayoral Candiate Clifford Minor was on hand to support the students. He applauded the largely peaceful protest.

“This is the first time I’ve seen kids deal with civics in its true nature,” Minor said. “I’m extremely proud of these kids.”

Students said their teachers’ response was largely mixed about the walkout, but said the protest was largely a result of text messages, Facebook, and Myspace.

Nah-Fee Hinton, an eighth grader at Oliver St. School said his teachers discouraged the students from participating.

“They said we were wasting our time,” Hinton, 14, said. “But we don’t believe that. We believe we can change.”

The overall protests were initiated by Michelle Ryan Lauto, an 18-year-old college student who spent her high school years in Bergen County. Lauto, said she set up a Facebook event page about a month ago encouraging the walkouts.

“It’s insane,” she said of the interest, which was unexpected. “I mean, I’m very excited.”

Lauto said her frustration over deep cuts to state education aid had been building in recent months while she’s been living and working in New York, on leave from Pace University as she waits to hear about a transfer application. She finds it “disturbing” that her little sister may go through a school system far different than that one she did.

Newark students walk out of school, take City Hall

In West Orange, senior Robert Wilson led a crowd of about 200 West Orange High School students in an impassioned speech protesting the cuts.

“This is not our mistake and we will not suffer for it,” Wilson said. “Enough cuts. Enough is enough.”

West Orange’s budget was slated to lay off 84 teachers because of the cuts to state aid.

It was voted down on April 20, and students fear that more cuts will be made in staff, arts and athletics.

About 200 students walked out of Montclair High School this morning with signs and musical instruments. They were protesting cuts to the school’s staff and programs, including arts, ROTC, languages and athletics.

“I want to be a teacher when I grow up, but the way things are going it looks impossible,” said junior Carolina Noguera. “There are barely even any books here anymore.”

Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried stopped by early in the protest to express his support, students said.

“He said he supports what we say, but that we should go back to class,” Noguera said. “We don’t care. We’re just going to get detention.”

About 50 students at Gateway Regional High School in Woodbury Heights reportedly walked out of class this morning.

In southern New Jersey, Rancocas Valley High School in Mount Holly; Gateway Regional High School in Deptford; Cherry Hill High School East; Williamstown High School; and Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees have all reported student walkouts, according to the Courier-Post online.

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